One of Us is Next by Karen M McManus

January was supposed to involve a book-buying ban – a promise to myself that I would finally clear some of those unread books – however, ‘One of Us is Next’ came out and I had to know what was going to happen next. So, bam – there went my book-buying ban.

‘One of Us is Lying’ was such a great piece of YA fiction, I was so excited to know how the story continued. We returned to Bayview as ‘Truth or Dare’ game appears to have taken hold of the community. Suddely, it appears to end in tragedy. Again the teens of Bayview are brought together to try and work out who ‘Intense Guy’ is and what the connection is to their little community.

The conclusion of this novel is a good one – I was honestly surprised by the outcome but, to me, that is simply the sign of a wonderful mystery book. Yet this is not just about the mystery, it also explores relationships – between family members, peers and strangers – as the friends also establish their place in the world. There was one moment between father and son that even caused me to shed a tear.

This is a well-written tale that should not be defined as a YA novel but also one that adults will enjoy too. I hope there is more heading our way from Karen M McManus as she certainly has a talent for the mystery book.

Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Since taking on my book blog just over three years ago, I have found some lovely bookish-minded people on Bookstagram – and it was such a collection in the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’ who encouraged me to read ‘Aurora Floyd’. Throughout January, we read and discussed the novel, even naming the actresses we would have loved to have seen (or even see) in a film adaptation of this gloriously melodramatic novel.

Aurora Floyd is from the pen of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, who also brought us ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’. A classic Victorian novelist who embodies the sensation genre with her wonderful tales. Aurora Floyd has a secret; a secret she really is not willing to share. However, as the tale develops and tragedy strikes, the secret is revealed – but not all mysteries are solved.

I could not put this novel down, and I was glad I was enjoying it as part of a read along, as I may have been tempted to rush through rather than savour the novel. As well as the beautiful writing, it has all the ingredients if a great mystery story. You have a secret, a cast of colourful characters – in the foreground and the background – and a murder…what more do you need? As well as a wonderful setting in the North of England and a nod to the racing word.

I am going to put it out there, despite (possibly) being a lesser-known novel, I preferred it to ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’. Do not get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed that book, but I felt this one had characters who were a little more relateable overall – especially Aurora herself.

So, if you fancy a novel that you may not normally have picked up – this is it!

The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

From the pen of the author who gave us Percy Jackson is another adventure based on the mythology of ancient civilisations. This time, we are immersed in the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians. Our heroes, Sadie and Carter, are connected to gods of the ancient world in way they never knew.

Of course, after a visit to the British Museum on Christmas Eve does not quite go as they expect, Sadie and Carters world is turned upside down. They find themselves on quite the mission to prevent Set from unleashing chaos on the world. Of course, they have to meet a real collection of characters from the ancient world and make some quick decisions about how they can save the world.

Magic, mystery and history are all entwined to create a great adventure. For me, although I am not the target audience, the start and end are strong but at times the middle was a little slow. Yet, this was a book I was encouraged to read and I do think it could get some reluctant readers to pick up a book. After all, who doesn’t wish they can go on a huge adventure and discover that they, in fact, have royal blood?

The Love Child by Rachel Hore

Bookstagram made me do it – as I was lucky enough to be selected by ‘Darkroom Tours’ to read and review ‘The Love Child’. Now, to be honest, if I judged this book by its cover, I would probably have decided that ths novel was not for me. However, that would have been completely the wrong decision to have made – this novel was completely for me.

This book swept me away as I followed the story of young Alice Copeman and Irene Burns. Two strong female characters in a time when society dictated the roles and expectations of women, which would not always lead to a happy ending. As we follow Alice’s story as she attempts to break into the field of medicine. So often dominated by men, she carries with her a secret that is also her inspiration and fuels her determination to be successful.

Simultaneously, Irene Burns is growing up in Suffolk. Always not sure she fully belongs, Irene wants to know her people because she believes it will complete her if she knows the past. It takes her on a journey of self-discovery – although maybe she always was with her people?

This is a beautifully written novel, which evokes all the emotions. However, it also tackles some of those tough issues of the early 20th century, which led to the displacement of children, because it was what society dictated – and reputation was everything.

I found this novel a wonderful page-turner and I am so glad to have discovered a new author through this wonderful bookish community.

Worzel Gummidge by Barbara Euphan Todd

One of the lovely things about Christmas is that it brings people together and creates memories. A very happy memory of this Christmas for me was us all watching the new adaptation of ‘Worzel Gummidge’ together. It was just a joyful piece of television and we all hope that there will be more episodes to come.

However, this also prompted me to read the book. What a joy that is, too! This was a lovely read to start 2020 with. A classic Children’s book, with the loveable scarecrow, a touch of magic and a great collection of characters. Susan, John and Worzel Gummidge have some great adventures in the countryside.

This is a traditional tale of simpler times – there is something very nostalgic about the book, which adds to its charm. It is really rather refreshing.

So, why not go and rediscover a classic whatever your age because sometimes all we need is the simple things in life.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Bookstagram made me do it – this was the novel that closed 2019 for me and I am so pleased that it did.

‘The Hunting Party’ was a book that I could not put down. In fact, it was the perfect travel companion as it made a recent train journey absolutely fly.

A New Year’s Eve tradition of a getaway for a group of old friends does not quite go according to plan when one of the party ends up dead. Which, as a reader, comes as no surprise as the destination of the getaway is the remote Scottish Highlands.

As the tale unfolds, there are colourful characters, dark secrets, and twists and turns. For once, I did not hold a lot of sympathy for the victim – but maybe their character was as insecure as those around them.

I enjoyed that the narrative is told from different viewpoints – each revealing different hints, clues and secrets as the tale unfolds. It was also quite a treat that the conclusion hinted at a happy ending for two characters who may have been running from their past. (And become caught up with quite a complex group of ‘friends’).

This is a book that may lead you to question if we ever really know anyone. A great read!

The End of 2019

It may be the first day of 2020 but, with festive days having been full of excitement, I have missed a round-up of the final books of 2019.

So here we go…

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This book crossed over from my ‘Non-fiction November’ into December. ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is a book that I have always wanted to read but it had never quite happened.

However, this is a book that I feel many of us should read. This is not just a memoir of Maya growing up in America, but it is a study of the society and culture at the time too. It tackles some uncomfortable issues – but that is the tale of the young girl’s life, however hard it may be for us to read.

This book is an inspiration, and I am keen to read the books that follow, to learn more about this inspirational lady.

Murder at Christmas

I enjoy a festive read and I enjoy a murder mystery – so this seemed a winning combination.

A collection of short stories – classic crime capers. Some were stronger than others as tales. However, overall it was an enjoyable collection of tales for these winter nights.

The Truth Pixie Goes to School by Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a writer that I admire for a number of reasons – but one of those reasons is that he can turn his hand to writing for both adults and children.

As I purchased this book, the bookseller also mentioned that he was a Matt Haig fan, but that this book may be too young for him. I tolf him that was not true, as I think anyone can enjoy these books about the Truth Pixie. They contain ideas and themes that we should all take note of.

Told in rhyme and supported with the illustrations of Chris Mould, this book is good fun for all ages, as we have all needed the friendship of the Truth Pixie from time to time.

Let It Snow

Having watched the Netflix Original Film and always enjoying some YA fiction, I have this book a read for the festive season.

A collection of three tales by three different authors, but all centred around the same town. Love and friendship are the main themes of all the tales. It is a nice read for the festive season and will inject you with the spirit of Christmas – and the desire for a white Christmas.

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie

Maidens of Murder December pick.

This may not be a traditional setting for a Christie novel – Ancient Egypt. However, it has all the other elements of a classic Christie novel. An enjoyable read as the tale unravels – I do not want to give any spoilers.

My only slight issue as a reader was getting my around all the names of the characters – but that was probably just me.

Peter Pan by J.M Barrie

A classic that I am not sure I have ever read – why not? Who knows? I saved this until December because I feel it is a really festive tale, maybe because it is now a classic pantomime.

This book was an absolute joy, as I knew it would be. There is adventure, heroes and villains, and a little bit of magic. It is just a wonderful tale – and makes you appreciate the importance of family and friends at all times.

Som there we are; quite a collection, there was one more but that will have a post of its own – as bookstagram made me do it.

Happy New Year – here is to happy 2020 reading!

Three Festive Reads…so far!

I love a theme or a focus when I pick my reads. In June, I ‘Read with Pride’; in November, it was about ‘Non-fiction’, and December is all about festive reads.

So, I have started with three quick reads (not at all motivated by the fact that I do not want to fail at my Goodreads target) and every one has created fantastic festive feels in different ways.

Father Christmas’s Fake Beard by Terry Pratchett

This book was an impulse buy a few weeks ago. The title contained Christmas and the author is Terry Pratchett, so I thought it was a win-win situation, and it was.

This collection of short stories, all based around Christmas, is full of wit and humour. They really reminded me of the tales of Roald Dahl, which made me happy because those were always favourites growing up.

This is a fantastic book for readers of all ages who want some Christmas spirit.

Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay

‘This is Going to Hurt’ has been quite the runaway hit in the book world. So, this festive ‘sequel’, which focuses fully on five Christmas shifts, is a gem.

Although some have referred to this as more of the same, I feel that is what makes it work. What I always think is important about these books is that it highlights the work of the NHS at this time of year. Things don’t stop (and thnak goodness for that), and life carries on as it needs to.

There is humour and sadness among these pages – and quite a study of human nature at times. And, for me, a real appreciation of the work of every member of the NHS, whtever the time of year.

The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

Yes, that is by Michael Morpurgo and not Raymond Briggs, but this was done with the original author’s blessing.

This is not a retelling; after all, the original story is a picture book. For me, this is an intepretation of the tale, even making it more festive.

James is a boy who feels he does not quite fit in with everyone else. His stutter seems to hold him back. However, when he meets or makes The Snowman, combined with the magic of Christmas, things appear to change.

This book is great for those of us who grew up with the original. Also, it is a chance to introduce the tale to a whole new generation. So, spread the joy and grab a copy of this gem.

Son of a Silverback by Russell Kane

At the start of November there was the chance to meet Russell Kane at Waterstones in Birmingham. This was an opportunity I could not let slip by, as I am a fan of Kane’s comedy (you may remember in August I went to a recording of his podcast ‘Evil Genius’). So, I am now a proud owner of a signed copy of his autobiography, ‘Son of a Silverback’.

This is a wonderful autobiograpy because, rather than Kane just taking us step by step through his life, it examines the relationship he had with his father. And, yet this is still cleverly done, as this is all about the influence his dad had over his life, and how that has shaped the path that Russell Kane has taken.

Russell Kane’s father was an alpha male, a product of his time who had his ideas, views and beliefs and he stuck to them. They may not be ideas that his son always agreed with, and Kane certainly did not fit into the clearly defined mould his father thought he should. However, it appears through the memoir that this did not hold Kane back, but at points, indeed, spurred him on.

Throughout the book, Russell Kane also analyses his own character and personality, considering the impact that they have had on his decisions and relationships with those around him.

This book is beautifully written and the ‘story’ told with warmth, emotion and, of course, humour. I really enjoyed this book, as it is honest; this is not a memoir to impress but a book to inform. And, for some, even support, if they feel any of their relationships or experiences are similar.

It has certainly made me want to ensure that I treasure time with my dad. A wonderful read for Non-fiction November.

A History of the World in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

Early this year, I read ‘A History of Britain in 21 Women’, so spent a lot of the rest of the year waiting for this one to come out in paperback. Therefore, it was a great choice for my ‘Non-Fiction November’.

The best thing about these books is that they are a short and sweet introduction to some wonderfully fascinating women who you want to find out more about. Of course, this is not a definitive collection of fabulous females – and you may not agree with all of Murray’s choices – but you will certainly learn something.

As I read about some women who I had never come across – such as Pharaoh Hatshepsut – I found myself admiring the determination of all of these women who have all fought for their place in ‘Her-story’, often against all odds.

The stories that really made me think and have left me wanting to find out even more were those of Joan of Arc, Marie Curie and Artemisa Gentileschi. Of course, I have a working knowledge of the first two women, but now I want to find out even more about them to draw my own conclusions. However, Artemisa Gentileschi was a figure new to me and her story, as well as her art, has really caught my attention.

All of these stories are those of women who have changed the world. In their own way, they have made an impact on the history of the world, and should be an inspiration to us all to make our mark.

There is only one small issue with the book. A teeny, tiny one that even had me texting my mum for confirmation. The book suggests in the TV series ‘Morse’ you never find out Inspector Morse’s christian name. However, as a dedicated fan (I was brought up on all the classics), I can confirm that this is incorrect – you do indeed find out his christian name. But, let’s be honest, it does not stop it from being a great book.