An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

Sometimes you just want to read a contemporary thriller – often with a dark or blue cover with a white or yellow font – and ‘An Unwanted Guest’ fits that criteria perfectly.

This is a locked room mystery – by this I mean it is set in one confined space with a small cast of characters, one of whom must be the villain. It reminded me a little of the Christie classic ‘And Then There Were None’.

Our cast of characters have all arrived at a secluded guest house during a winter storm. So, let’s be honest, we know that there are going to be problems of some kind. Of course, it also appears that this combination of people is not going to have anything in common. However, as the atmosphere becomes more tense, secrets begin to be uncovered and cracks appear in the facade.

Of course, I do not want to write a review that contains spoilers (which can sometimes be difficult with these thrillers), so this may be a little short and sweet. I will say that this is a page-turner because, to be honest, we are always keen to know who did or did not do it. However, for me, I would have liked a little more of the investigation process, as it was a little bit of a simple solution after a good build-up. Although, like all good thrillers, there was another sudden twist in the tale – the story is never quite over.

Have you read any good thrillers recently? I am always keen to hear recommendations.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis

I have admired and been a little bit fascinated by C.S Lewis since I was a child. I was drawn into his Narnia world when I watched the original TV adaptations, repeatedly listened to the radio adaptations – and, of course, as a bookworm read the Narnia novels. However, that was as far as my knowledge of his literary work went (although his links to the beautiful city of Oxford always sparked my imagination too).

However, my mum had often told me that I should read ‘The Screwtape Letters’, so when I spotted it in the local Oxfam bookshop, I picked up a copy (after all, you are not breaking your book-buying ban when the money goes to charity obviously).

Before I even started reading the book properly, I spotted the dedication to J.R.R Tolkien and decided that this was a book I had to read, as that is a literary friendship I would have loved to have witnessed.

I feel that this is a book that I may need to read more than once. This is a book of many layers and I do not think that reading it once really brings it all to your attention. The demon Screwtape writing to his nephew is such a fascinating idea. Lewis clearly uses this is a tool to be able to pass comment on mankind and human nature. He uses his wit and, in some cases charm, to pass some really rather damning commentary on the world that man inhabits.

Again, like many of these books of some of our great writers of the past, it is a book that could have been written for the modern audience. Sadly, it emphasises some of the follies that could explain this crazy world we are currently living in – after all, we really only have ourselves to blame.

Have you read any of Lewis’ work (other than Narnia)? Where could I take my reading adventure next?

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I was swept up in the hype of ‘Big Little Lies‘ – and enjoyed it. I read ‘Truly Madly Guilty‘ – and was not as big a fan but finished it all the same. However, ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ found its stride and swept me away again.

This novel is not something that you will ever predict. Nine strangers are thrown together on a health retreat, all with the aim of making a change or escaping it all. However, not is all as it seems with the health retreat, those that run it or the characters.

I, personally, do not think that any reader will predict this tale or its rather dark twist. You do become rather invested in these nine perfect strangers and, when the novel reaches its end, you are given a small chance to draw your own conclusions about their futures. It is clear, however, it will all never be quite be the same again.

I could not out this book down. It has been a prefect holiday-time read, as it includes mystery, a little romance and humour along the way. Although I am not sure I would want check out an isolated health farm with ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ (whatever its Trip Advisor rating).

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M McManus

I was excited when I realised that this novel was hitting the bookshops this year. I had really enjoyed ‘One of Us is Lying’, so could not wait to see what thrilling intrigue there was going to be amongst the pages of this tale.

Stories like this can be difficult to write blog posts about as I do not want to spoil this book for anybody, so I will do my best to share my thoughts.

The small town of Echo Ridge has been the scene of two crimes involving the disappearance of teenage girls, although the crimes have been several years apart. When Ellery and Ezra end up with their grandmother, another disappearance occurs and Ellery’s true crime-loving side leads her to carry out her own investigation – although some mysteries she solves are not the ones she expects.

The is edge-of-your-seat stuff right up until the final line. McManus weaves the tale with mystery and intrigue. You are drawn into it all and you really do want to know what will happen next. Especially as the cast of characters are almost a collection of red herrings in themselves. One minute, like Ellery, you may have one suspect in mind only to be completely thrown off. As with ‘One of Us is Lying’, it is a gripping read; a great one for thriller fans.

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

I have two confessions:

  1. I do not really like historical fiction, pre 1900 settings.
  2. I have never read Bernard Cornwell before.

So, ‘Fools and Mortals’ was a bit of a breakaway choice for me this month. It had been an impulse buy last year as I was attracted by the reference to Shakespeare (as many of you know, I am a huge Shakespeare fan).

This was a little bit of a slow burn for me, for the very reason I do not usually pick an historical novel, there is a lot of scene setting. I, of course, appreciate the need for this as we have to be transported to the era but I often find it causes my attention to wander (or that could be reading on the commute).

However, the idea of the story did grab my attention. The complex politics of being a ‘player’ in Elizabethan England. An England of quite diverse beliefs and power and, indeed, the pressure that Shakespeare and his contemporaries may have faced to be successful in their field. However, this tale also has a hint of crime fiction: when a valuable manuscript goes missing and Shakespeare’s own brother comes under suspicion, he must work to attempt to clear his name.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, especially all the nods to the work of Shakespeare. But I do think I need to give Bernard Cornwell another go with a different book to really form an opinion.

Any suggestions from you lovely readers about other Cornwell books I could try?

No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

Books are such a magical thing because not only do they allow you to escape, but they also bring people together. I read my first novel by Linwood Barclay last year and made sure I passed it straight on to my sister-in-law when she was looking for some reading inspiration because I knew she would love it. And so, she returned the favour with ‘No Time For Goodbye’ this year.

This was a bit of a slow burn for me; I was not sure it was going to grab my attention in the same way. However, I was so wrong. Barclay takes his time to really establish the scene, which of course is necessary if you want to build a good thriller. And this is a good thriller: the tension builds throughout the tale and what appears to be the big reveal is gripping. However, that is not where the story ends, and you actually face another twist, just when you think not much else can surprise you. The slow burn is certainly worth it, for the thrilling pace you face once it picks up is pretty edge of your seat.

So, this may be a short but sweet review, as I do not want to spoil the read for anybody else, but if you like a good thriller that builds to quite a page turner, then ‘No Time For Goodbye’ is worth seeking out.

The Woman in the Window by A.J.Finn

The title of this novel immediately made me think of that classic film ‘Rear Window’. Not a bad first thought as, like the central character Dr Anna Fox, I love those classic films, so I thought I was likely to enjoy this novel.

It is clearly inspired by all those Hitchcock-style films as Dr Anna Fox is unlikely to leave her house and her only real day-to-day contact with the outside world is through the windows of her home. Like ‘Rear Window’, she witnesses what appears to be a crime but, with her muddle of the real world, film plots, memories and medication, nobody seems to believe her. The evidence is also scarce and Anna wonders if she can even rely on herself.

This is an engaging thriller with plenty of twists and turns. One of the plot twists was a little obvious, however there were plenty of other surprises along the way. I also thought that Finn’s nods to so many of the classic films was a nice touch – in fact, I have a film list now from all the references. After all, they clearly were some inspiration for the novel.

I did race through this book at some speed, as I was always keen to know what would happen next and what some of the dark secrets were. It is a great thriller, which is something we all need sometimes.

Have you read ‘The Woman in the Window’ or any other thrillers I need to add to my wish list?

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

I am about to make a bold statement: this is my favourite Pratchett ever (so far – as I am reading them in order).

I was late to discovering Pratchett. Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse is a big fan so I decided I should give the Discworld novels a go, especially once the beautiful hardback books were published.

I have to admit that sometimes I am not entirely sure what has happened in the stories but I have always enjoyed them. However, ‘Pyramids’ seems to have changed that. I managed to keep the thread of the story even without chapters (that has really taken some getting used to). ‘Pyramids’ is infused with Pratchett’s gentle humour and witty observations that create his Discworld parallels to our world. Their version of Ancient Egypt is highly ridiculous with a whole host of highly comical and equally ridiculous characters. Yet, the odd voice of reason comes in the shape of our hero, Teppic, his ghostly father and a camel (well, he offers thoughts of reason).

This book has certainly reignited my joy in being part of Discworld. I accept that chapters are not a thing and sometimes I will need a character list to keep me on track, but the escapism is totally worth it (and the giggles).

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?