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…

 

 

 

Love of Libraries

I wrote this post seven months ago and left it unfinished. I came back to it today and couldn’t bring myself to delete it. I nearly did, thinking the first part was too personal, not enough about books, but I remember writing it in a huge flow of words last year, knowing my life was changing. I’m going to let you read it, and it does get bookish after a while. I called this post Love of Libraries, and I think I then didn’t get on to why it was titled that. I’m going to post what I have, and then write another post in praise of libraries shortly. Watch this space. In the meantime, here’s my flashback to last summer…

August 2016

Libraries are amazing. They are like my dream place; shelf upon shelf of books, just waiting for you to discover them. In my recent life, I haven’t been to many libraries. The fact is simple; as many of you know; I am a bookaholic and I have bought books with a passion that has left me with about 200 unread tomes, filling my bookshelves, my house and my life. The problem is, I was, for the last eight years anyway, a teacher. This left me with no time to read. In fact it left me with no time for anything as I became steadily more consumed by the job, and my work/life balance became nonexistent. To touch on my own story, which is slightly relevant but a digression here, I got burnt out by a job many outsiders describe as easy. I got disillusioned by the demands of the powers that be that we test children as young as four, and worse than that regard them as numbers on a page, not living breathing quirky and mischievous human beings. Then, I got out. I write this as a new and uncharted chapter of my life begins. I am not a primary school teacher anymore. Not until I can recharge and regain myself outside the confines of a school, and a career, that I loved but it no longer loves me back.

So now I find myself one again with time to read. For the last few months, as I resigned and came to terms with the decision to leave teaching, possibly for good, I read nothing but Harry Potter books (some for the second time, some for the third or fourth). When I say read, I mean consumed in an unhealthy obsessive fashion.  More on the start of that here. Then I made my Mum, a stubborn resister of the charms of J.K. Rowling and the world she created, read them all. Then I read the new play: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and loved it.

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In this time of obsession I read only one other book: How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis. This book made me want to read many others, which are analysed and described by the author as she charts her life in terms of the heroines she has read about and identified with or wanted to be.

This brings me nicely onto what happened this week. A friend gave me a book. This may not sound exciting or special to you, but although I have friends who love books and friends who have only a casual relationship with books, I have not really ever been given a book as a present by a friend. My mum, my husband, my brother and my dad give me books. My friends talk to me about books, but never has someone gone out of their way to get me a book they’d recommended before. Now, among my friends, I like to think I’m the go-to person for book knowledge. They want a recommendation, they ask me. They want to know if there are any children’s books about ladybirds they can read to their class: I will know. The book my friend handed me this week is The Little Shop of Happy Ever After by Jenny Colgan. Those of you who have read this blog may well be thinking, that’s not something she would read! Well, in my teen years I did read many books I would call ‘chick-lit’ and enjoyed them very much. Then I found Ian Rankin in my final year of university and became a crime reader. What I loved about this particular book was my friend’s enthusiastic statement that the protagonist reminded her so much of me. I read it so quickly and enjoyed it so much, largely because I was drinking in this character my friend had identified as ‘me’.  if you’re interested, the main character is a librarian who is being made redundant. She knows what books people need. She loves recommending books. She sets up her own ‘book van’: a shop on wheels full of books. I wish I was this person! My own bookshop is my absolute dream.

To be continued…

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.

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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The year of not reading enough!

So, it appears that being a reception teacher (I teach 4 year olds) does not mix well with being a good blogger. Having resolved at the start of last year to blog every fortnight it seems I stopped somewhere along the line. Reading didn’t fare much better either in 2014. What started out promising, and continued strongly, took a massive and catastrophic nosedive after the summer holidays.

I set out to read one book every week this year (52), a feat I narrowly missed out on last year with 48 books read. I have so far read 36. Oh the shame. There’s a chance I will read more this year as I have the next few days relatively free for reading, but 16 books in 4 days seems more than a little ambitious.

2014 did bring a new Poirot book which I thoroughly enjoyed, book benches in London which I loved, and tweets from Sophie Hannah (my favourite author of the year).

I think 2015 might be the year I finish all of Agatha Christie’s books (I have around 17 yet to read), the year I read from home again to prevent the spiralling out of control of an already chaotic ‘to read’ list, it could even be the year I attempt Bleak House at long last. I’m looking forward to a new year of reading and I resolve to do better at both reading and blogging.

Merry Christmas everyone, and I hope all your New Years get off to good starts!

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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.