Love of the library: the sequel

A few facts for you. Last year (2016), for the first time in years, I beat my reading target of 52 books. I read 68 books. I didn’t buy any new books in 2016 (although I did receive a few as presents). I did rediscover the library. 30 of the 68 books were library books, so in fact I rediscovered the library in a big way! This, of course, hasn’t helped with the huge backlog of unread books in my house. It did help me go on an exciting new obsession with dystopian fiction though.

The oxford dictionary online defines dystopia as “An imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. The opposite of utopia” (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/dystopia).

A lot of the dystopias I read about last year were in teen fiction books or YA. First, I read The Maze Runner by James Dashner, which had a great premise. I gave it 7/10. As the summer turned to autumn, I then read the two sequels and one prequel The Scorch Trials (7/10), The Death Cure (7/10) and The Kill Order. Sad to say, like their situation in the world they live in, the books get worse as they go on. If you’re going to read them, do, but I would avoid The Kill Order, which is a prequel. It’s bordering on nonsensical and has very little in the way of plot (5/10). Light reading, all four, but enjoyable in the main. Before I read the sequels, a very bookish friend lent me the Divergent  series by Veronica Roth. She lent me them with the words “they are better than The Hunger Games“. High praise indeed. I responded to this comment with a determination that it wasn’t possible. I love all three of The Hunger Games books. So I began Divergent (8/10), and it wasn’t long before I felt like the writer was either paying homage to Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, or writing her own slightly changed version. Basically, if you like The Hunger Games, then you’ll probably like this trilogy too. Or so I thought. I enjoyed Insurgent too (7 1/2 /10). Allegiant (6/10), however, has a lot to answer for. I am not going to spoiler this book but let me just say I am still raging at it. No mean feat for a book I read back in August (it’s now March). If you read the trilogy, obviously you will have to read it to hear the end. If you do want spoilers, I rant about it on Goodreads here.

Staying on dystopia, but hitting the adult shelves of the library for a change, I read Wool by Hugh Howey. I would give it 7/10. I really like the setting, and I loved the build up, but unfortunately, for me this built and built and then bottomed out without a great climax. I haven’t read its sequels. In September and October, I read Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer (7/10) and The End of The World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker. The former is scary and unnerving, the latter is by far and away the best new book I read last year. The End of The World Running Club is so good that I have since recommended it to three other people, two of whom have said it’s probably the best book they’ve ever read and at least one of whom has passed it on to someone else. I would like to read the sequels to Annihilation, but haven’t been able to find them.

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I also read all of these other library books but I feel that this post is getting long and rambling, so I am going to wrap it up. My local library is amazing, and many of these books I got by placing requests for them online.

This year, my nearest library has enabled me to become obsessed with the Pretty Little Liars series of books by Sara Shepard. More on that later…

 

 

 

Agatha Christie and my mystery mission

This is a post about Agatha Christie and her books. Not all of you will know that her books are said to outsell all others except the Bible and Shakespeare. She wrote approximately 83 books, thirty-nine of them featuring her Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, fourteen starring elderly spinster and amateur investigator Miss Marple and five about her amusing, enthusiastic, mystery-solving couple Tommy and Tuppence. I haven’t included her other novels, written as Mary Westmacott, her plays or her autobiographical works in this tally. I have included short story collections.

Of these books, I have read all of the Poirot, a feat I discuss in more detail elsewhere on this blog. For several years now I have planned to complete reading the rest. This year I hope to do so. 

In pursuit of  this quest I have read four books so far this year by the Queen of Crime. 


I started with two volumes of shorts stories: The Mysterious Mr Quin and The Listerdale Mystery. Of the two, the latter is more typical as volumes of Christie’s short stories go. The problem being that it is hard to set up a mystery, introduce a hero or heroine or adversary (or both) and have them solve the mystery in the space of only twenty or so pages. I love Agatha’s style but I definitely prefer it when she gives herself a novel to showcase her storytelling talent. Many of her short stories are simply too short, although a few in this collection were still perfectly formed and gave me good entertainment. The Mysterious Mr Quin, however, stands apart from her other volumes of short stories. 7/10. In these stories, a man named Mr Satterthwaite keeps encountering the eponymous Harley Quin. He always seems to meet him when there is some sort of mystery to be solved or some lovers to be helped. Each of these stories are carefully detailed and have lovely twists in the tales. These are unusual for Agatha Christie, but are characteristic of her great talent, and her underrated ability to turn her hand to anything.

I’ve given The Listerdale Mystery 7/10 as well. It was very light reading in places but some stories had brilliant twists. The worst of the stories was probably ‘The Manhood of Edward Robinson’. The best three (and worth checking out) were ‘Philomel Cottage’, ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ and ‘Accident’.

Next, I read By the Pricking of My Thumbs, a Tommy and Tuppence novel. This is one of their best mysteries and has a somewhat supernatural element to it. It was such a page-turner that I read it in a day, while on holiday. I’ve been reading the Tommy and Tuppence books in chronological order: these are the only Christie books I have done this with. 7/10.

The Pale Horse also has a supernatural element to it with people dying from a distance, seemingly without explanation. I had been looking forward to this one for a while, and my copy is a first edition, given to me by my husband for. Our ‘paper’ wedding anniversary. It’s a brilliant mystery but what I expected from the premise did not completely deliver. In places it was spooky, intriguing and mysterious; in others slightly dragging and a little far-fetched. Still, it was Agatha and it was a good read. 7/10.

So, we are less than halfway through the year and I am currently reading a fifth Christie: Passenger to Frankfurt.


Only time will tell whether I complete my challenge in 2016. I still have three Miss Marple books to go: At Bertram’s Hotel, Nemesis and Miss Marple’s Final Cases; one Tommy and Tuppence: Postern of Fate; and three others: Death Comes as the End, They Came to Bagdad and While the Light Lasts. It sounds very do-able. 

My love of Agatha Christie’s brilliant body of work will go on long after all these books are finished. I’d like to think I may reread some eventually once I’ve repressed the twists and solutions a bit more. Once the challenge is complete I also intend to read Agatha’s Autobiography, the Mary Westmacott novels (which are much harder to get hold of: so far I own one out of six) and Christie’s published plays. I will keep you updated. In the meantime, if you’ve yet to pick up an Agatha Christie book, go out and get yourself a couple and settle in for a  really good time.

The blog, the challenge and the re-reading…

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything here. I apologise for that, but life takes over sometimes. In the past year of writing no blog posts I have managed to read quite a bit. This is a post about my book related life in 2016 so far. I’m writing it in the hope of writing more regularly again. 

Firstly, the moment has come at last, I can finally say that I have reached the summit that was Bleak House by Charles Dickens. My first Dickens; all 932 pages of it; finished. It took me eleven months on and off and I really enjoyed it in the end. I can truthfully say that once you get past the fog and the slow set up of each and every character, it becomes so worth it. I actually laughed, I also cried real tears. If you have a spare few months or haven’t got round to this very multi-layered book yet, do read it. I recommend it. It’s all the better if you can read it in larger chunks so set aside time if possible. 


The next news is that I’ve had a huge Harry Potter revival. This was directly caused by a visit to the set of Harry Potter at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London. My husband bought the tickets as a present for my last birthday and we spent a very happy day there in February.

Since then I have had to revisit all of the films. Now I’m revisiting all of the books. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first book in the series, is a great book to re-read and this was at least my third time reading it, but there were still bits left out by the film that I had forgotten. It’s so good on the page. J.K Rowling infuses so much detail to every scenario. The wizarding world looks so good in this first portrayal. Moving immediately on, the second book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets brings even more of Hogwarts to life. If you’ve only seen the films I urge you to read these books. This one in particular had me laughing out loud at various points. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban owns the honour of being my favourite of the films, but when I first read the series I preferred the fourth book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I am currently reading. This is my first reread of these two. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a brilliant read, and again I was happily immersed in details I had forgotten that the film removed or changed. More on this rereading spree in future posts. Safe to say, I recommend going on a Harry Potter binge.

We are nearly up to date. I’ve set myself targets this year of reading a book a week: 52 books. I’ve read 19 so far. A far greater challenge I have set myself is to not buy any more books at all. This is important as my unread library stands at over 200 books. I will keep you informed.

Books I have read this year include:Bleak House by Charles Dickens 8/10. Four Agatha Christie books: The Mysterious Mr Quin, The Listerdale Mystery, By the Pricking of my Thumbs and The Pale Horse; all 7/10. Three books by Dick Francis: Bolt (7/10), For Kicks (8/10) and Flying Finish (7/10). Disclaimer by Renee Knight (7/10), I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (9/10), Slam by Nick Hornby (8/10), Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin (8/10), Agatha Raisin Kissing Christmas Goodbye by MC Beaton (6/10), The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (7/10), Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined by Stephenie Meyer (7 and 1/2 out of 10), Very British Problems by Rob Temple (6/10) and the first three Harry Potter books by JK Rowling. 

I will hope to tell you more about some of the above in future posts. In the meantime, happy reading everyone, whatever you might be reading at the moment.

15 books so far this year… And slowly making Bleak House progress

So as we get within touching distance of another half term a.k.a increased reading time for busy teachers, I thought I would update the world on my latest reading habits. No surprise here that Agatha Christie, Dick Francis and Sophie Hannah feature. I’ve also squeezed in a Harlan Coben book and two books about football! I finally read a book that has been big on my life for no reason other than our shared name Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass. 

 Bleak House update for you all first: I’ve read 21% of it according to Goodreads. That’s just over 200 pages and I have to say I am getting into in. Progress is slow because I have to be in the right mood to pick it up. That, and the fact that Dickens never used one word where twenty would make him happier, so some passages are rather wordy!

Now, to football, something I have rarely (if ever) mentioned on this blog but that is a huge part of my life. If you’re not a fan then skip this paragraph! As background for you, I support Blackburn Rovers, a decision I made circa 1996, when my Dad took us to Ewood park (a 500 mile round trip from our Norfolk home) for the first time to please my then Blackburn supporting little brother. In the intervening years I’ve watched them from afar and sometimes in the flesh at away games nearer me or on long treks north. It has sometimes been hard work sticking with them, but I’m in too deep now to step away. Anyway, I love football. It makes me happy as much as it makes me crushingly disappointed at times. The two football books I have read this year are both by Harry Redknapp. If you don’t know football, he’s a famous manager. Always Managing is his autobiography and my husband bought it for me for Christmas by mistake. I read it anyway and I loved it. It’s written so you can imagine Harry is talking you through it all himself. 7/10 Harry. I really enjoyed it. A Man Walks on to a Pitch is a series of anecdotes strung together by the theme of Harry’s top 11 players of each decade he has been involved in football. Not as good as Always Managing but an easy read and enjoyable.

Right, football talk finished. If you’re still reading and you like Agatha Christie but haven’t read them all then may I highly recommend Murder is Easy to you? It’s one of her stand alone whodunnits. I had great fun guessing who did it. 7/10 again. Reflex by Dick Francis is similarly a great, gripping mystery lead by a strong leading man. 8/10. Proof is by the same author and is one of the saddest I’ve read. Scrap that, it is devastating: an insight into a man’s lasting grief. Also 8/10 at least. 

I wasn’t keen on Alice’s Adventures… In all honesty, it’s a bit too random and nonsensical for me, especially the through the looking glass bit. Sophie Hannah’s Pictures or it Didn’t Happen was a quick read and enjoyable enough if a bit abrupt. Harlan Coben’s Six Years, while not his best work, was enjoyable and kept me guessing.

As for the other books on the pictured pile, I am currently reading N or M from the 1940s Agatha Christie collection. I’ve also started Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris. Tripwire could be next. I’ll keep you informed. 

Progress! Books 1-7 of 2015 and a big announcement!

Hi everyone and a very belated happy new year! I wrote before the turn of the year of my expectations for my upcoming year in books. I haven’t been dedicated enough to update here but things are going smoothly so far, although I may have done something to sabotage myself.

So far in 2015, I have read 7 books; a number I am quite pleased with. I’ve been enjoying using twitter to complete Borough Press’ #bookadayuk, which is great fun and reminds me of a very short version of the challenge I did on here in 2013.

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My 7 books so far include three Agatha Christies, so I’m optimistic about my target of completing her complete works this year. The Moving Finger proved to be a very good read, and introduced Miss Marple extremely late on in the book, which, if you’ve read my reviews before, you know I like! Partners in Crime is a book of short stories about Agatha’s less well known detectives, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. I’m not a huge fan of Christie’s short stories usually, preferring a full on novel, but these were excellent. The writing style is easy going, and Tommy and Tuppence are a lot of fun. Destination Unknown, however, is one of Dame Agatha’s stand alone thrillers, and I wouldn’t recommend it. Where the previous book was fun, this wasn’t at all. The characters were moderately endearing and the plot was slow but ultimately interesting. So, not a complete waste of time, but quite low down my list of Christie favourites.

I’ve also read The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie by Charles Osbourne, which details all of the queen of crime’s prolific output in date order with details of her life at the time interspersed. I would only recommend this to hardcore Agatha fans, as it’s somewhat heavy going, but very enjoyable in places. Maybe one to dip into rather than read cover to cover like I did.

Making up the magnificent seven, I’ve also read one Dick Francis The Danger. It took me much longer to read than his others, but the characters were fantastic and the plot is brilliant despite being a little slower moving in places than the others I’ve read. (See Dead Cert here and Nerve here.)

Last but not least I’ve read two teen books this year. I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore and The Enemy by Charlie Higson. Both were good. Both led me to look up sequels on amazon. If you only bother with one though, I’d go with The Enemy. Higson writes in a very youth friendly way, about a zombie apocalypse. Well, that’s how it seems anyway. Basically, everyone over 14 years of age got ill. Some died but many went insane and still walk the earth trying to eat the intrepid survivors, the under 14s. There’s a lot of death in this book. It’s sad but there are great action scenes and very good characterisations. I will be keeping my eyes open for the sequels when I’m buying books again. I am Number Four is not as well written, and is far more sci-fi, and much more teen friendly I would say. Number four is an alien in a teenage boy’s body, exiled from his dead planet with only a minder and a friendly dog for company. He falls in love, but the evil aliens who killed his planet are coming for him. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if I came upon the sequels in the library I would like to know how it works out for four.

I seem to have written an incredibly long post. I’m currently reading Proof by Dick Francis which is amazing. But, hold the front page for this: yesterday I went to my shelf and picked up Bleak House by Charles Dickens. “Big deal!” I hear you cry! Well, those of you who have read any of this blog will know that this particular book of mine has sat on my shelf for years, and every year I say I’m going to take the plunge into the 932 page volume and read it. Reader, I’ve started it! It may well derail my attempts to read 52 books, it may well take up every waking hour that I’m not teaching, but I’ve taken the first baby steps. I’m on chapter three! This is my first ever foray into Dickens. To those of you who warned me about the pages of fog description, I’ve made it through those and past the first appearance of Lady Deadlock. I’ll let you all know how I get on…

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Book 10: The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side by Agatha Christie

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I’ve finally finished reading another book! It must be the Easter holidays! Joking aside, I’m shocked that I haven’t read a book to the end since February. Luckily, I’ve finished off two that have been on the go since then, and read a third, in the space of one weekend! They were all Agatha Christie related.

So, first up, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. This has one of my favourite titles of a Christie. It refers to The Lady of Shalott, a poem by Tennyson that my mum used to read us because it was King Arthur and Camelot related and we were very into that at the time. As a title, I think I only prefer Why Didn’t they Ask Evans? as far as Dame Agatha’s titles themselves go. [Although, on reflection there are a lot of good ones, for example Sparkling Cyanide, Towards Zero, Ordeal by Innocence, Dead Man’s Folly, Crooked House.]

Anyway, the downside is that Miss Marple is the star of this book. As any followers will know, I am Team Poirot, if there is such a thing. Miss Marple usually annoys me with her old busybody ways. Somehow I ended up quite liking her in this one, but I was mainly drawn in by the plot, which didn’t involve her much. Basically, a vaguely irritating but good person drops dead at a party. Poisoned. (Of course!) Lots of people were there, but it’s hard to find a suspect. In fact, the police believe that the film star actress whose party it was must have been the target. After all, the poison was in her drink that she gave to the victim.

I don’t wish to include spoilers, so let’s move on. Marple investigates from her armchair, fed information by Superintendant Craddock. After much to-ing and fro-ing and more deaths, she comes to a conclusion first. After the juicy nature of the plot, I was somewhat let down by the abruptness and lack of direction in the ending. However, overall this was a good book, a great read and a whodunit that I wasn’t able to solve!

I give The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side 7/10.

Next up, Spiders Web, adapted by Charles Osborne from Agatha Christie’s play.

Book 9: Nerve by Dick Francis

My second Dick Francis of the year! [She said, hoping no-one had noticed her month long absence when she had resolved to post fortnightly.]

I read this straight after The Woman in White so you will have to excuse me if this is less than detailed.

Nerve was Dick Francis’ second novel about horse racing and crime. It’s very different from the first, which you can read about on my blog, here. This time, a jinx seems to falling on the jockeys. Nerve kicks off with one of them killing himself (gun to the head) in the middle of the show ring. Rob (our hero) blames the immense pressure on him and the fact he was going to lose his job. But even worse is to come. A leg break leads Rob to get some better rides than usual. Meanwhile, another of his friends is sacked for being late in freak circumstances, and another jockey suffers a mental breakdown.

For Rob, everything is going well, until his horses start to lose. All the time. Everyone says he’s lost his nerve. He investigates, and finds an interesting culprit. The ending is interestingly played out. My only problem with the story is that Rob is hopelessly in love with his cousin. I’m not sure why Francis chose this subplot but I found it rather weird.

Overall though, a very gripping, read in one sitting, type of book. I give Nerve 7/10.

Reading has taken a backseat to work of late, so I’ll return when I have read something else!

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