The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Bookstagram community has been one of the best spaces I have found. It has brought together so many fabulous bookish people and it has encouraged me to read all sorts of books that I may not have read or have had on the to-be-read pile for a while.

My latest read-along (that I actually managed to complete and stick to) was ‘The Moonstone’, as part of the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’. This has been a lovely community where, in the month of November, we read a section a week shared our thoughts. There have been great discussions and such a friendly atmosphere (and the end of November does not mean that the chatting stops).

And, now to the novel, my only regret has been that I did not read this sooner. ‘The Moonstone’ is a story I have known for a long time thanks to TV and Radio adaptations, but I had never got round to picking the book up. What wasted time that was because I absolutely loved this!

From the moment I started this book I could not put it down. Collins created a wonderful detective story (some say the first modern one in fact) from the word go. You are drawn into the narrative by how ‘The Moonstone’ ended up leaving India and arriving in England. Even that simple introduction is shrouded in mystery just as the rest of the tale is. Collins creates a colourful cast of characters who become mixed up in the mystery of ‘The Moonstone’. However, together, they eventually also manage to solve the mystery of this magnificent stone.

This is a tale that has stood the test of time as it can still engage modern audiences. However, it is also a novel of its time with references specific to the period but all of that is the context of the era.

Reading ‘The Moonstone’ has firmly cemented Wilkie Collins in the territory of one of my favourite authors of the classics. I can not wait for the next read with the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’, which is ‘The Woman in White’ in January.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

With Netflix releasing its adaptation of ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, I decided it was time that I tried to read some of Jackson’s work.

I am usually not one for spooky novels but, as I have started to want to read books that fit seasons this year, I made a change. I could not put this book down once I started it. Shirley Jackson writes in a wonderfully accessible style which sucks you in – and also adds to how much she manages to spook her readers. Although it was clear that the TV adaptation was only really inspired by, rather than fully based, on the book both are wonderful in their own way.

Again, I do not want to spoil the novel for anyone who may want to read it. However, if you do, you will be as drawn into the mystery of Hill House as its inhabitants. I did not find it a terrifying read but it certainly can play on your mind as the story unfolds. What is real in the house and what isn’t? Is everyone having the same experience or is there more to it?

I am certainly glad that I chose to read this book in October, as it is idea for autumn. I am also glad that I did not assume I knew the story from the Netflix series – well, for me anyway. So, I have now discovered another author whose books I would like to read more.

Have you read any Shirley Jackson novels? What are your thoughts?

The Chalk Man by C J Tudor

So, I spotted that this was considered a must-read for autumn, which was the final little piece of encouragement I needed to pick up a copy – as, basically, I wanted to read it anyway – haha!

This is a brilliant thriller and I was genuinely surprised it was a debut novel. It is a clever and sophisticated plot with a twist on what seemed like every page. The tale is told in the past as well as the present – giving us the context around the strange events playing out, or almost, repeated in Eddie’s life. I genuinely can not say much about this book but I do not want to even hint at a spoiler for anyone who would want to pick it up. However, I would have liked a little bit more of the ‘spooky’ side of the tale – but this does not negatively impact the tale at all┬ámerely a personal preference.

I also could not believe the final chapter – it was not what I was expecting at all – maybe some of you would have spotted it, but I didn’t, so it was an excellent twist.

The Chalk Man – which works on more than one level in the story – is correctly identified as an excellent autumn/winter read. It is ideal for those dark nights when many of us like to be a little bit spooked.

Really excited to see what C J Tudor’s next book brings…

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I had spotted this book in the Bookstagram world, so when it was a bargain then I had to pick up a copy. Now, I had no idea what this novel was about, just that it was by the same author as ‘Gone Girl’.

When I started reading I was instantly hooked as there were so many strands to this novel that you simply wanted to know ‘Who, What, Where, When, Why, How’. There is a clever study of human nature and psychological throughout. The interactions between the characters are absolutely fascinating. Especially, when you realise the impact that someone’s actions and attitudes can have on someone else. Camille and her mother have a very strange and strained relationship but as secrets are uncovered there are even more surprises ahead for all. As well as the solution to the mystery gripping Wind Gap.

This book is not a comfortable read, as it deals with some very difficult issues, but it is compelling. I am glad I have read it and it will certainly stay with me for a long time to come – a good autumnal choice.

Have you read any Gillian Flynn novels?

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R Carey

This is not a book I would ever read if I was faced with a choice. A strange statement, I realise, as I have clearly read it, but that is thanks to it arriving in a little bookish parcel from Hayley of Hayley From Home. I also actually enjoyed it – my first step into real zombie fiction.

Once I started reading this book, I could not put it down. I was intrigued at every page and chapter about what was going to happen next. Melanie, the girl with all the gifts, appears to be living a monotonous life of routine and confinement. It does not seem to make sense and nor does the ‘fear’ people express around her and her ‘friends’. When an attack breaks the ‘life’ she is used to, and she finds herself on the run with four adults, she finally realises the uncomfortable truth, forges some unusual friendship and understands exactly what it is that makes her different.

The tale was a little bit slow in the middle but it did seem to reflect the development of the story and experiences of the characters. There are brilliantly jumpy moments, emotional moments and even moments of real humour. Although, the thing that really appealed to me was that this was a story with a heart. There is a real human side to this zombie book. And the twist was not one I expected, but was very well done.

This was an ideal book for the dark autumn nights – I am glad that Hayley sharing it with me pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to try something new.

Has a friend ever helped you find a surprising new read?

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!

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?

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.