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?

 

Geeky Stitching Company and the love of Harry Potter

Social media can be a wonderful thing. I know it feels like it is regularly getting a battering but, for me, it is one of the best ways to discover some lovely independent businesses. It is, in fact, how I discovered the fabulous ‘The Geeky Stitching Company‘: a truly brilliant, independent cross stitch pattern designer based in the South of England – Devon to be precise.

My eye was caught initially by those wonderful words ‘Harry Potter’. I spotted a brilliant bundle of two Harry Potter-inspired designs that looked a lot of fun to stitch. So I placed an order.

The kits are beautifully presented, although being a bit of an amateur at this blogging malarkey, I forgot to take a photo. However, I promise they are pretty. A lovely pastel, branded presentation box with everything inside wrapped perfectly in tissue. The kit contains everything you need to complete the design – a needle (essential), the threads (ready sorted), aida, a hoop, the pattern and an instruction sheet. There is also an awesome pom pom trim.

Now, for some stitchers, I commit a bit of a sin: I do not sew with a hoop. I never have – I am sorry. I used them for the finished presentation only – again, I am sorry.

Anyway, now I have confessed, back to the post. The instruction and the patterns are easy to follow – just remember to start at the centre and always count your stitches.

These kits are great for all abilities and are so satisfying to complete. They are just so fun and colourful and will basically make you happy at every stage.

Also, I have really appreciated the support of Jess of ‘The Geeky Stitching Company’. She will always recognise your efforts if you share them on social media and happily replies to DMs. In fact, I was so happy when she shared one of my photos to her Instagram – felt like a real achievement on all sorts of levels.

I have since stitched four Harry Potter inspired designs and absolutely love them. They make me smile every time they catch my eye because, let’s be honest, who would not rather be at Hogwarts?

So, if you are a fan of cross stitch or want to give something new a go, pop over to ‘The Geeky Stitching Company‘ and pick yourself a little kit.

P.S This is not an ad or something that I was asked to write – I just wanted to share my thoughts on a great independent business and something that has made me smile this summer.

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?