The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

This months ‘Maidens of Murder’ book club choice is ‘The Seven Dials Mystery’. This was not a title that I was aware of but, as regular readers of the blog will know, I am always happy to give a Christie novel a go. It also seems fitting that I finished it on Agatha Christie’s birthday, which is a fitting tribute to the ‘Queen of Crime’s’ memory.

I found this novel an absolute joy to read. It really reminded me of the novels of PG Wodehouse, as there was a humour and charm to this novel that resonated with me from the first page.

This is not a novel that involves Poirot or Miss Marple, but instead Superintendent Battle (who appears in five of Christie’s novels). However, for me, other than his part in the big reveal that we¬† all associate with Christie’s work, he is not the star of the story. This novel in fact has a wonderfully strong female lead in ‘Bundle’. A young (and fairly wealthy) lady who sees herself as a little bit of an amateur sleuth and ends up embroiled in the ‘Seven Dials Mystery’ when two young men from her social circle wind up dead.

It is a beautifully crafted novel, as you would expect, but does read in a slightly different style to the Marples and Poirots I am used to. This made it even more appealing to me as it demonstrated that Christie is a consistently skilled writer but can make small adjustments to her style to keep the stories fresh.

I absolutely can not wait to see what next month’s offering is as so far each title has reignited my love of Agatha Christie’s work.

The Magic of Christmas Tree Farm by Erin Green

I am unbelievably lucky to call the lovely author Erin Green a friend. She is one of the most inspirational ladies I know and I have followed her writing career with great excitement and pride. So, imagine my surprise one grey day (pretty sure it was grey but that could be artistic licence) when I got a little message asking me which name I would like my character to have in her latest novel. As an avid reader and huge fan of Erin’s work, this was one of the most fabulous things to ever happen.

Erin’s third offering is a truly beautiful tale with a heart. Set at the most wonderful time of the year, it tells the tale of three lovely ladies who are at three very different stages of their lives but who all want the same thing – that very special stomach flip and the future happiness we all deserve. The tale centres around the delightful Christmas Tree Farm, a place that offers festive magic for all.

The real beauty of Erin’s writing is that you can relate to the characters and their experiences. We will all have felt Holly’s teenage fears, we all know that life can not always be all we imagined but it can still be our best life like Angie, and Nina’s loss will strike a note with anyone who has experienced something similar. This book certainly should come with a mascara warning because the story will catch you out unexpectedly with its beautiful sensitivity.

It was also a complete joy to recognise the little tributes to people that Erin (and in some cases, I) know. The inspirations were clear and wonderful. The little observations Erin has made of people are delightful. So, I can not thank Erin enough for such a lovely reading experience and opportunity (she even described my wedding dress perfectly).

So, whatever your usual reading pleasure, you will enjoy this novel. It does have romance, it has humour but most importantly for me it has some key messages about life. After a difficult year at points for me, this book was quite a support.

And, this year, I think I might wrap a couple of extra presents in memory of loved ones – and pass them on to people I know could really love them…

P.S Kitty is an awesome character!

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

I have been a fan of Anthony Horowitz since I was a child. My sister discovered his comic children’s novels and I used to read them too. Also, being a huge fan of murder mysteries, I have watched many episodes of ‘Foyle’s War’ and ‘Midsomer Murders’ with Horowitz’s screenplays.

I am ashamed to say that ‘Magpie Murders’ has been on my ‘to be read’ pile for a long time, but I finally picked it up this month. It just seemed like a great novel for autumn, as it has so many hints of classic crime fiction.

This novel is a clever concept, like a novel within a novel. You start off reading the final Atticus Pund story by the author Alan Conway. You are reading it as his editor reads it, realising alongside her that the novel is not completed. However, the problem is Alan Conway appears to have killed himself and nobody seems to know where the end of the novel is. There also seems to be something odd about the death of its author. So, Susan Ryeland, a fan of crime fiction, finds herself not only on the hunt for the final chapter of ‘Magpie Murders’ but also for the truth about Conway’s death.

It is incredibly clever how Horowitz intertwines the two stories, as well as all the little nods to so many of the fictional detectives we know and love. It is certainly a book for crime fiction lovers, especially fans of Agatha Christie classics.

For me, the setting of Suffolk, especially little towns like Woodbridge, was an added joy, as I have so many happy memories of spending time with my extended family there.

This is quite a long read but it is certainly an enjoyable one especially as the nights draw in.

The (very) Merry Wives of Windsor

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Romeo and Juliet, and as part of that had a little ramble about my favourite Shakespeare plays – and I have realised I did not mention The Merry Wives of Windsor. What an error on my part, because after seeing the third adaptation of it in 8 years, I have remembered what pure comedy gold it is and how much I love it.

I will start with the words of my dad ‘Can we see it again and we need it on DVD’ – high praise indeed from Daddy Bookwormandtheatremouse, who only really started seeing Shakespeare as my mum wanted to.

There is so much to say about this production, so first and foremost, the staging catches your eye from the moment you arrive. I do not like to spoil the setting for people who may want to see it, but from two buildings they create a whole glorious, over-the-top world for our colourful characters.

Then we move on to the amazing costumes, so cleverly structured that they are modern and Elizabethan all at the same time. They are perfectly suited to each character and tell us so much about who they are before any action has taken place. Brilliant!

However, the cast was the most fabulous part of the whole thing. Every single actor on that stage was an absolute joy to watch. There was so much physical comedy, as well as the humour of Shakespeare’s words, and everyone on the stage put their heart and soul into every moment. There is no star, it is an ensemble of stars, and you will leave with some incredibly happy memories. I have never seen such wonderful ‘flossing’ (the dance move), found a pink wheelie bin so amusing or seen a remote controlled golf trolley almost cause a cast to corpse. I do though need to give some special mentions, as they were so impressive: David Troughton’s Falstaff will surely go down as one of the greatest of all time, David Acton’s Sir Hugh was pure ‘Welsh’ comedy gold and Jonathan Cullen’s Dr Caius had me crying with laughter (especially with my French heritage). However, it really is a little unfair for me to make this statement, as it would not have worked if even one member of the cast was missing. And, really, the women are the stars as they make fools of the men – girl power!!

So, in conclusion, this is one the funniest plays you will see – ever! And, by luck it is being broadcast in cinemas on 12th September – so go if you can. It is pure comedy gold!

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

If you visit my blog regularly you will know that I have read a few of Matt Haig’s children’s fiction books and I adore the the novel ‘How to Stop Time’. However, despite this, I had never read ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and now I really wish I had read it before.

I was aware of Matt Haig’s struggles with mental health and have always admired what an advocate he is for talking about mental health. Yet I was still so struck by the complete honesty in this book. I knew that this book chronicled the struggles Haig had faced when he had to bring himself back from the brink – an incredibly brave move in itself – but I did not expect that he would be so willing to be so ‘warts and all’ about the decision. This book taught me so much about mental health and even caused me to evaluate my life and how I live day by day.

However you see your life, this book is an inspiration. You will come away considering all the reasons there really are to stay alive and greet a new day, as well as giving you the chance to understand and evaluate the interactions you have with so many people every single day.

I have come away with a desire to learn more about mental health (you are provided with some further reading ideas), to really take care of my own mental health, to support other people and always be willing to listen as much as I talk and vice versa.

And…I am going to ensure I appreciate all those reasons I have to stay alive.

Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

This is the third Lisa Heathfield novel that I have read this year. Again, I was surprised by the book, different again from the previous two, but still a compelling read.

This novel focuses on the lives of a group of travellers who tour with the Circus, and especially on the sisters Lo and Rita. Great to read another novel with strong female characters. I would consider this a coming of age novel, as it really tackles the complex fabric of relationships for both girls: their relationship, family relationships and romantic relationships. For Lo, everything seems difficult as she has fallen for a boy outside the trusted Circus circle and she is having to carry an additional secret that is almost suffocating her and her existence. Rita, despite her odd moments, feels that tradition of their family carries more weight than it seems to for Lo.

However, one moment for Lo will change life forever – for everyone. Despite it all, it may even bring everyone closer than ever before.

This was not as tense to read as ‘Seed’ and ‘Paper Butterflies’; although it is still full of emotions and difficult ideas, it is a little more gentle on the reader. I still finished it while continuing to think about it as the last word is fading.

I am grateful to the Twitterverse and Bookstagram for introducing me to these fascinating YA novels and, in turn, I have been able to share them with other readers.

Romeo and Juliet – Another Birthday Treat

As regular readers will know we as a family love a bit of Shakespeare and time at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. So, a little birthday treat was to see my second-favourite (I think – although top spot will always be ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ – I seem to constantly change the other rankings) play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

I always try to avoid finding out the staging and setting of productions before we go, as I love the element of surprise. However, I had a not totally managed it before this production, so I knew it was modern and that it hoped to raise awareness of knife crime in the 21st century, especially amongst the young.

The stage was wonderfully plain, only starting with a box on stage. I am always impressed how little staging the RSC productions need for some of their adaptations. I was intrigued to see how we would experience the story on this simple stage.

As the lights dim those famous opening lines begin – ‘Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona were we lay our scene…’ I was excited. The production is certainly a young one; the real focus, for me, was on the relationships between the young characters. The risks of being quick to anger and the lack of empathy and understanding that big rival groups can have for each other. The damage that the actions of others can have even on positive situations. And, how extreme tragedy can sometimes be the only thing that causes people to stop and think – unfortunately, something that we witness almost everyday in the world that we live in.

I enjoyed the production, especially the performances of Karen Fishwick as Juliet, Baily Gill as Romeo ad Andrew French as Friar Laurence. (That moment at the end – if you know the story, you’ll know what I mean – was emotional and beautifully done). However, there was a little bit of a feel that it was inspired by the Baz Luhrmann film and, as huge fan of the film, I totally understand what an inspiration it could be. Yet, I do not think that this production needed it, as it was relatable as it was.

This production is still a must see, and certainly one that I think younger generations should see and really think about. It always surprises me how much Shakespeare plays are relevant today and certainly cements why he is still so much part of our British culture.

Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play? Or an adaptation that really strikes you?

Bath, Bristol and Birthdays

I am a huge fan of the art trails (if that is the correct name for them) that pop up in our cities in the Summer. When I spotted that both Bath and Bristol had them going on this year (as well as a number of other cities), I knew the destination of a little adventure.

Bath – The Owl Trail

The joy of Bath is that it is so close to Bristol so both cities can be visited easily. After a good night’s sleep at the IBIS Hotel at Temple Meads we set off early to beat some of the tourist crowd.

Immediately on leaving the station you can spot owls. So, of course, the photos started straight away. We began our tour just randomly spotting owls and owlets as we found them. There were two reasons for this: one, it was early and we like a stroll and, two, we wanted to find breakfast. (Cafe Rouge became the destination of choice.)

Once we had refueled, we grabbed ourselves a map (you offer a donation) and carried on. Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse took control of the route we took. The best thing about these events is you see so much of the city without realising. It also introduces you to parts of the city that you would not normally visit. Bath is so beautiful that there is always something to catch your eye.

We also took the chance to visit Bath Abbey, as we have never been before. You do have to pay an entry fee, which I know divides opinion – some say a donation would be better. But the important thing is that it supports the upkeep of important cultural sites. Bath Abbey is a beauty and oozes history, which is where my interest in such buildings lie.

This was a brilliant day; my only disappointment was that you would have had to enter the Roman Baths to spot all the city centre owls. However, we managed over 50 of the city centre owls. A great day!

Bristol – Gromit Unleashed 2

Day two was all about Bristol and my birthday (woohoo!).

Aardman Studios has its home in Bristol, so therefore it is also home to Wallace and Gromit. This is the second ‘Gromit Unleashed’ and it is in aid of Bristol Children’s Hospital.

Our first stop was an amazing bakery, ‘Hart’s Bakery’, which is among the arches at Temple Meads Station. I do not think I have ever seen such a huge Almond Croissant. A croissant connoisseur Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse was in his element. Coffee was amazing too.

Energised and ready to go, we started off on the harbourside trail, taking in the sites such as the SS Great Britain. What was lovely about this is not only were there statues to spot, but you have Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw to look out for. Wallace is also always on a bench, which is great for photos and avoids the temptation for some to climb.

Lunch break was a delicious birthday meal at Loch Fyne. The fish your way on the menu is perfect: pick your fish, sauce and sides – yummy!

In the afternoon, we focused on the city trail. Again, you see parts of the city you would normally miss.

By the end of the day, we had found all the Gromit Unleashed 2 statues in Bristol itself (minus the one in the M Shed exhibition hall).

These trails were both brilliant fun and we can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Have you completed any of the city trails this year?

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Hayley always seems to pass on the most fabulous books and this was no exception.

I had not heard of this title (clearly my head had been in the sand) but I was intrigued when I read the blurb on the back. I love a mystery novel, so was more than happy to give this book a go.

From the moment I started this book I was hooked. In my first sitting I read 125 pages; I just could not put the book down (pretty sure I should have been doing something else but clearly that was forgotten). I loved how the novel was structured, the narrative came from a variety of characters, which kept my interest in the novel even more. Jewell smoothly transitions between the viewpoints of different characters, bringing depth to the story.

I always find it difficult to blog about mystery novels as I never want to spoil any part of the plot. The twists and turns in this plot are not always a surprise, but this does not take away from the novel as the story is rich enough.

After having finished this novel, I would be keen to read other titles by Lisa Jewell. This was, after all, the perfect summer mystery read.

Have you discovered any new authors this summer? Any recommendations?

Adventures in Antwerp

When Miss W suggested we had a girly city break to Antwerp I jumped at the chance. I absolutely love adventures with friends, and with Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse at work he was not going to miss me. Hehe!

So, at the end of July we jumped on the ever so speedy Eurostar to Brussels, then changed onto a local train to Antwerp so our adventure could begin.

We arrived on a beautiful sunny Tuesday afternoon to be greeted by the amazing Antwerp central station. It is absolutely stunning, fabulous architecture and a truly amazing atmosphere. The camera was straight out to try and snap the magnificence of the building. As you leave the station you realise how much it dominates the skyline and oozes stories of arrivals and departures.

Miss W had found a great hotel, Hotel Rubens – Grote Markt, it was central but slightly off the tourist trail (only by metres) so was peaceful. It was gorgeous and we were lucky enough to have a courtyard view. At the corner of the courtyard was the oldest tower in Antwerp, which had carefully been incorporated into the architecture of the hotel.

Afternoon one was all about taking in the beauty of the city and adopting the continental culture of eating and drinking al fresco. We enjoyed delicious open sandwiches (once we deciphered the menu), pizza and wine (not all at the same time I hasten to add). The simple joy of socialising in Antwerp was lovely to see and the slower pace of life was perfect for a chilled out city break.

Wednesday

The real adventure began. After a delicious breakfast we walked to the Antwerp Zoo. This was a trip we thought would just fill a few hours but instead lasted all day.

The zoo is set in wonderful gardens (which means you can’t walk on the grass) with benches placed all around to allow you to take in the views. The zoo is also bordered by Central Station which means you can appreciate it from another angle to the one you see on arrival.

There is a great collections of animals and we enjoyed seeing them all, especially the rather elegant flamingos who greet you as you enter the zoo.

We took a break for lunch at the zoo’s cafe. We each had a great Salmon and Courgette Quiche, made using puff pastry. It was packed full of flavour (and really put the British tourist food to shame).

There were talks and so much great information signs – not in English – but we liked picking out the words we could understand and having a good guess at others (the pictures helped).

Our evening consisted of amazing Belgian Waffles and crisp cold white wine at a fabulous Belgian bar with tables in the shadow of the Cathedral (all after a bit of a cultural stroll of the city).

Thursday

After a second epic breakfast (I promise that Miss W and I do not totally judge our trips on food) we decided to explore the city.

Miss W took the lead and guided us, after a walk along the river, to the most stunning museum. ‘MAS’ is a beautiful, modern museum which tells the story of Antwerp but from the point of view of all the diverse cultures which make the city what it is. It shows how the rich tapestry of Antwerp has been and continues to be formed.

The current promoted exhibition is ‘Celebration! Colourful rituals’ a wonderful guide to celebrations and festivals that mark life’s moments, not just in Antwerp but around the world. It is fascinating and you will come away having learnt something and realising how small the world is as we embrace all the different celebrations from the diverse cultures of all our countries.

When you reach the top there are the most stunning views of the city and the surronding area. You can really appreciate what makes Antwerp what it is.

After a delightful al fresco lunch of burgers, fries and pancakes (again – not all at the same time) we walked the zig-zag narrow streets back to the centre and visited the Cathedral. It makes a statement as all such buildings do. Towering over the two main squares, you can not avoid all its majestic glory. Inside it is beautiful, with stained glass windows and brilliant stone and wood work. There are currently some pieces of art on loan, with a religious theme, but they can be appreciated on all sorts of levels (the History Teacher in me was fascinated by the social commentary the paintings offered).

After out very cultural and educational day, we spent our final evening very much like the one before: waffles and wine (although ice cream and wine for Miss W).

So, if you fancy a great city break, Antwerp is a wonderful place to visit. We didn’t even cover all that the city had to offer and would happily go back.

This summer, have you been on any adventures?