The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

My reading habits have changed slightly since becoming a book blogger. Never before did I consider which month to read certain books, but now it seems to be one of the key considerations when deciding what to read. Therefore, I was really excited when it was revealed that this month’s ‘Maidens of Murder’ book was ‘The Pale Horse’, one I knew had a slightly spooky undercurrent.

Again, we were not taken on this adventure by Poirot or Miss Marple but Mark Easterbrook is our narrative provider. (Even the most recent ITV adaptation did add Miss Marple to the tale). A number of mysterious deaths have taken place, but when a priest is murdered after visiting one of the ‘victims’ it seems that there could be more to this than meets the eye. Mark Easterbrook becomes intrigued by this mystery, which seems to lead to a slightly strange public house called ‘The Pale Horse’. It appears that the ladies who inhabit it may have some connections to practicing the ‘dark arts’.

I really enjoyed this novel. If you read this little blog on a regular basis, you will know that I am an Agatha Christie fan but there are still a few novels that do not quite hit the spot, but this was not one of them. I just wanted to know what was happening next; there is a well-built-up tension – and the twist – well I did not spot that coming! (Although, as always, it seems so obvious when it is fully revealed).

So, October has got off to a suitably spooky start – A classic Christie!

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Less than a month ago I read ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and it left such an impression on me that I was keen to read ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’. The thing that always strikes me is that Haig is so honest in his writing. His willingness to share personal experiences and his successes (and flaws) makes it such a relatable read.

The irony of this book is that I was introduced to Matt Haig through social media. Yet he makes a very good point about the impact, sometimes negative, that such things can have on our lives. Having felt anxiety levels rise over the years (and working with the young people of the 21st Century) this book certainly encouraged me to re-evaluate my use and potential reliance on social media.

This book also reminds you that the simple things in life are worth enjoying. After all, do we really need a 24-hour life? Our bodies are made for sleep, so let them sleep. Give yourself the chance to recover from whatever the day has thrown at you.

Follow some, if not all, of the guidance Matt Haig offers and you will start to realise that we can not control everything around us, but we can support ourselves to reduce our nervousness. You will also learn some history as you go and it will spark some other paths of interest that you may wish to follow.

So, slow down, pick up a book and take a little break from the Nervous Planet.

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

This months ‘Maidens of Murder’ book club choice is ‘The Seven Dials Mystery’. This was not a title that I was aware of but, as regular readers of the blog will know, I am always happy to give a Christie novel a go. It also seems fitting that I finished it on Agatha Christie’s birthday, which is a fitting tribute to the ‘Queen of Crime’s’ memory.

I found this novel an absolute joy to read. It really reminded me of the novels of PG Wodehouse, as there was a humour and charm to this novel that resonated with me from the first page.

This is not a novel that involves Poirot or Miss Marple, but instead Superintendent Battle (who appears in five of Christie’s novels). However, for me, other than his part in the big reveal that we¬† all associate with Christie’s work, he is not the star of the story. This novel in fact has a wonderfully strong female lead in ‘Bundle’. A young (and fairly wealthy) lady who sees herself as a little bit of an amateur sleuth and ends up embroiled in the ‘Seven Dials Mystery’ when two young men from her social circle wind up dead.

It is a beautifully crafted novel, as you would expect, but does read in a slightly different style to the Marples and Poirots I am used to. This made it even more appealing to me as it demonstrated that Christie is a consistently skilled writer but can make small adjustments to her style to keep the stories fresh.

I absolutely can not wait to see what next month’s offering is as so far each title has reignited my love of Agatha Christie’s work.

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.

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.