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?

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M McManus

I was excited when I realised that this novel was hitting the bookshops this year. I had really enjoyed ‘One of Us is Lying’, so could not wait to see what thrilling intrigue there was going to be amongst the pages of this tale.

Stories like this can be difficult to write blog posts about as I do not want to spoil this book for anybody, so I will do my best to share my thoughts.

The small town of Echo Ridge has been the scene of two crimes involving the disappearance of teenage girls, although the crimes have been several years apart. When Ellery and Ezra end up with their grandmother, another disappearance occurs and Ellery’s true crime-loving side leads her to carry out her own investigation – although some mysteries she solves are not the ones she expects.

The is edge-of-your-seat stuff right up until the final line. McManus weaves the tale with mystery and intrigue. You are drawn into it all and you really do want to know what will happen next. Especially as the cast of characters are almost a collection of red herrings in themselves. One minute, like Ellery, you may have one suspect in mind only to be completely thrown off. As with ‘One of Us is Lying’, it is a gripping read; a great one for thriller fans.

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

I have two confessions:

  1. I do not really like historical fiction, pre 1900 settings.
  2. I have never read Bernard Cornwell before.

So, ‘Fools and Mortals’ was a bit of a breakaway choice for me this month. It had been an impulse buy last year as I was attracted by the reference to Shakespeare (as many of you know, I am a huge Shakespeare fan).

This was a little bit of a slow burn for me, for the very reason I do not usually pick an historical novel, there is a lot of scene setting. I, of course, appreciate the need for this as we have to be transported to the era but I often find it causes my attention to wander (or that could be reading on the commute).

However, the idea of the story did grab my attention. The complex politics of being a ‘player’ in Elizabethan England. An England of quite diverse beliefs and power and, indeed, the pressure that Shakespeare and his contemporaries may have faced to be successful in their field. However, this tale also has a hint of crime fiction: when a valuable manuscript goes missing and Shakespeare’s own brother comes under suspicion, he must work to attempt to clear his name.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, especially all the nods to the work of Shakespeare. But I do think I need to give Bernard Cornwell another go with a different book to really form an opinion.

Any suggestions from you lovely readers about other Cornwell books I could try?

No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

Books are such a magical thing because not only do they allow you to escape, but they also bring people together. I read my first novel by Linwood Barclay last year and made sure I passed it straight on to my sister-in-law when she was looking for some reading inspiration because I knew she would love it. And so, she returned the favour with ‘No Time For Goodbye’ this year.

This was a bit of a slow burn for me; I was not sure it was going to grab my attention in the same way. However, I was so wrong. Barclay takes his time to really establish the scene, which of course is necessary if you want to build a good thriller. And this is a good thriller: the tension builds throughout the tale and what appears to be the big reveal is gripping. However, that is not where the story ends, and you actually face another twist, just when you think not much else can surprise you. The slow burn is certainly worth it, for the thrilling pace you face once it picks up is pretty edge of your seat.

So, this may be a short but sweet review, as I do not want to spoil the read for anybody else, but if you like a good thriller that builds to quite a page turner, then ‘No Time For Goodbye’ is worth seeking out.