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.

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?

Origin by Dan Brown

So, I know that the novels of Dan Brown are not especially classic pieces of literature, but they are a little guilty pleasure of mine. They always seem to grab my attention, as they are set in cities with fascinating histories and mysteries.

‘Origin’ follows just this formula that I adore, and I was hooked from the word go. As the title suggests, Dan Brown tackles the difficult questions about the start and the end of the human race. Our setting is Spain, Bilbao and Barcelona, our adventure is fast paced and our enemy and ally would not be who we expect. Brown has clearly researched the ideas and the worlds that he places Langdon in to. Now, I do not claim to be an expert in the ideas that Brown shares in his novels, but he does create questions for you to ponder, either along with Professor Langdon or in your own time.

The references to Spain’s difficult past under Franco have reminded me that this is something I should really learn more about. Sometimes we forget about the history of our neighbouring nations and how that shapes them. And, I would certainly like to visit La Sagrada Familia again, not having been since a hen do many years ago. However, this novel, as much as I enjoyed it, has not replaced ‘Angels and Demons’ in my affections as Langdon’s greatest adventure.

Do you have a favourite Dan Brown novel?

Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

This month ‘Maidens of Murder’ book club choice is ‘Murder is Easy’. This is one of Agatha Christie’s novels which does not include one of out literary national treasures Poirot or Miss Marple. This does have Superintendent Battle pop up, but he has very little to do with story as a whole.

I was pretty hooked at the beginning as a mysterious encounter between Luke Fitzwilliam and Lavinia Pinkerton, on the train to London, means he becomes aware of strange goings-on in Wychwood Under Ashe. When Mr Fitzwilliam realises that Miss Pinkerton’s suspicions will never be followed up, he takes himself to the seemingly sleepy village to carry out his own investigations.

I am sure it is not a spoiler to share that a series of suspicious murders take place. However, the investigations into the mystery slow the pace a little. Despite, of course, there being quite a collection of colourful characters, and even some suggestions of witchcraft, these chapters seem a little drawn out.

However, the conclusion of the tale picks up the pace again. There is quite some excitement as the culprit is revealed. It is very well engineered in Christie’s usual style.

I enjoyed this book – although I do not think it is one I would return to, as I feel that now I know the outcome it would not offer the same drama to read it again.

Have you read any of the Christie stand alone tales? What did you think?

Spectacles – A Memoir by Sue Perkins

A good memoir is one you can relate to. Where you read some of the tales and they trigger some of your own memories. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not expect to have the life of a celebrity or a historical figure, but when they talk about the real world you realise that everyone’s paths are not so different.

Sue Perkins is probably most recently recognisable for hosting the real ‘Great British Bake Off’ (oooh yes I went there), and her memoir is just as real as she appears on TV. I was laughing from page one and reading snippets out to my poor holiday companion Miss W (who has read the book, so probably didn’t need to hear it at 10 o’clock at night). I could hear Sue’s voice telling the every tale and there was a really natural flow to the words. And, again, the tales told were honest and relateable. One anecdote about Granny Smith really struck a chord with me – reminding me of my very own family.

However, Sue Perkins does not shy away from the darker side of life and some struggles, but it is all told so naturally and with no sugar coating, and no over-dramatic adjectives, that you simply quietly empathise and have a little think.

Another reason I found reading this a joy is that this is the same copy read by ‘Hayley From Home‘ and ‘Adventures with One of Each‘, as we love to pass books along. So, thank you Sue for bringing us joy on TV (often with Mel) and sharing that little bit more with us too.

Murder at The Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

This was another title that I received through one of ‘The Reading Residence‘ bookswaps. It has been on the ‘To Be Read’ pile for a while because, simply, I have no discipline when it comes to the order I read books. I am rather magpie-ish and flittish when I pick reads and go with what I fancy.

‘Murder at The Brightwell’ appealed to me as a summer holiday read. It has a fabulous cover which oozes Art Deco galmour – especially Summer beach Art Deco glamour.

This is a wonderful classic-style crime. If you are a fan of Agatha Christie then you will be a fan of Ashley Weaver’s novel. From the moment you start reading you are immersed in the world of the glamourous Amory Ames. As this novel is told from her point of view, you really do feel you are on her sleuthing adventure. It is nice in this style of classic crime to have a slightly younger amateur sleuth – meaning it is not just about that but also the complex relationship she has with her dashing playboy husband, Milo and her former fiance Gil Trent. Especially as it is Gil who is the reason that Amory is at The Brightwell on the day of the murder.

The story unfolds as you would expect; secrets are revealed (not always happily), suspects are numerous and there are red herrings galore. You simply can not stop yourself from wanting to know the solution to the puzzle. And I, for one, was a little surprised by the resolution.

This is the sort of novel that makes reading feel like a luxurious pursuit: you should be reading it in the Sun, with a glass of your favourite tipple and wearing a lovely summer dress and hat – just as Amory Ames would be if she could avoid the drama.

Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield

A bold statement, but this could be one of my books of the year. Although, not a new book, Lisa Heathfield is a new author to me, this year, and – my word – she has struck a chord with me.

Just like ‘Seed’, ‘Paper Butterflies’ was a real surprise! This book does not tackle an easy subject, and I actually found the first few pages difficult to read, but once the context is in place, you can not leave June’s journey. You become a real part of June’s story as she grows up on each page. You root for her relationship with the unusually named ‘Blister’. We all learn that difference is good and happiness can be there for everyone to find and enjoy. However, the absolutely traumatic twist to the tale will break your heart. I struggled to put the book down before we reached the twist but, once we were at ‘After’, for every chapter I just had to know the outcome.

I can not spoil this book for anyone who wants to read it because it really is an experience not just a story. However, my biggest life lesson (and what really hit a nerve as a teacher) is you know the battles people are fighting or what really happens behind closed doors. My heart broke continuously for the beautiful June but I hope her story will educate all those who read this novel to become so much more aware of the world around them. After all, not everyone is brave enough to ask for help. And, that sometimes we are truly surprised by those around us!

A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

So, as many of you know, I am an Agatha Christie fan. However, usually I pick up a Poirot, so Miss Marple is a little bit of a change. I have always been a fan of Joan Hickson’s Marple, as it was something that I used to watch with my Mum. However, I actually think that my favourite Miss Marple is June Whitfield in the fabulous BBC Radio adaptations.

Anyway, back on track, A Caribbean Mystery is ‘Maidens of Murder’ July pick, which encouraged me to pick it up. I am glad I did as, usually, Poirot tempts me more. This tale was of course classic Christie. There was a collection of colourful characters with all sorts of skeletons in their cupboards. A wonderfully exotic location, that you really can’t imagine Miss Marple enjoying but somehow it works. And, last but of course by no means least, a collection of suspicious deaths that set Miss Marple and Mr Rafiel sleuthing. (Great to discover how Jane Marple met her Nemesis).

I found this novel a real page turner and did notice a difference in Christie’s style. For me, in the Poirot novels the detective work comes from his interviews with characters. However, with Miss Marple, in this novel at least, the sleuthing is more amongst the action and the observation. You really can see her sitting in the sunshine with her knitting, working out the finer details, and – let’s be honest – we all love a bit of people watching.

So, it is fair to say that I will be giving Miss Marple novels a little bit more of a chance because, although they are different, they really do prove that Agatha Christie is the Queen of Crime.

Do you have a favourite Marple story?

Munich by Robert Harris

I am not usually a fan of historical fiction. Usually, the reason being that they do not seem to get the balance between description and narrative. Setting the scene often seems to come at the cost of the narrative. However, Robert Harris does not fall into the trap. I do not know if it is because he covers events (in this novel) that people may have a little general knowledge of and, therefore, he does not have the same need to paint a picture, as his narrative does it for him with some of the characters that are really rather well-known.

Munich covers those events that happened immediately before World War Two. The meeting between Hitler and Chamberlain is imagined in Harris’ novel. Not only is that played out as the Allies are desperate to avoid a second war, but two young men, one on each side, may carry secrets that could change the course of history. Can the friendship and experiences of the past help change the events to come?

Munich carefully blends historical events and characters with fiction to create a thrilling story. You feel as though you are part of the events, experiencing the complex relationship between the leaders, almost as a fly on the wall. As tension builds elsewhere, you hope that right will triumph over wrong (even though you know the true outcome of events).

This is the first of Robert Harris’ novels I have read with a historical connection (I did read Conclave) but it has certainly made me keen to read others.

Do you enjoy historical fiction? Any suggestions of novels to try?

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

This was a good read and was sent to me by my lovely Auntie. I do love book mail and sharing reads, as it always introduces you to new worlds and adventures. In fact, I was only aware of Moriarty’s work thanks to an online book club that was run by Stacie from Parker and Me.

I am not sure I enjoyed this quite as much as ‘Big Little Lies’ but that does not mean that I did not enjoy this book. This novel was just a little slower in the middle, which took the thrill away just a little. The twists and turns do keep you hooked as you are keen to know the results of ‘The Day of Barbecue’ for all involved, it will keep you reading to the end. You also do feel your emotions towards each character change as the mystery unfolds. You are also invested in the thrill of the novel because – let’s be honest – all bookworms need to know what will happen next.

This novel is certainly a top summer read – I am not sure it would be right to read any other time of year – especially if you liked Liane Moriarty’s other work. I think next up for me would have to be ‘The Husband’s Secret’, as that is another title I have heard a lot about. Have you got a favourite Moriarty novel?