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.

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.

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!