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. 

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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Book 8: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I’m very excited to announce that I am one step closer to achieving the most challenging of my New Years book resolutions. I’ve read 1/4 of the huge classic novels I hope to read this year by demolishing Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. I say demolished, because I thought it would take me weeks and I would find it hard going, but not a bit of it! I’ve read it in under a week, all 620+ pages of it.

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This is the beautiful edition I read, a Christmas gift from my mum. I had spare time to read this week because I’ve been home with a chest infection. So, on Tuesday I was bored, and my mum challenged me by saying “I bet you won’t read The Woman in White“. Reader: I did.

Now, having spent time on and off for five days reading this classic Victorian ‘Sensation novel’, I’m so glad I picked it up. It provided a fantastic amount of entertainment and at times the suspense was unbearable.

Having also read The Moonstone several years ago, I think the thing I like about Collins’ writing is also what sometimes frustrates me and gets me a bit (very temporarily) fed up. I love switching narrators, but he does tend to stick with a narrator until I’m devastated to part company with them, then brings me a different narrator I get into, then snatches them away too. Anyway, the suspense in the middle: wow, this author knows how to ramp it up. At times I was afraid for his characters. At the end I was almost elated for them.

The villains. I can’t leave a review of The Woman in White without mentioning first how dastardly and evil some of the villains of this piece are. I leave you to find out who they are for yourself, lest I spoil it, but suffice it to say they make some villains look positively lovely.

In case I haven’t gushed enough already, as you can tell, I was absolutely hooked by this book. From start to finish I was gripped, my attention only waning once or twice which is amazing in a book of more than 600 pages. I’m pleased to have read it, and enjoyed the various personalities, twists and suspenses throughout.

I would give The Woman in White at least 8/10.

Book 7: Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson

A cheap acquisition in a library book sale, I bought this even though the book by Thompson that I long to read is actually The Killer Inside Me.

That aside, I enjoyed Pop. 1280. The title refers to the county over which Sheriff Nick Corey presides. It is a very small county in the American South. Written in the 60s, its author is famed for the book I mentioned earlier, and wrote a great deal of ‘pulp fiction’. Anyway, the aforementioned sheriff is a seemingly decent man. He’s the narrator, so that’s what he would have us believe! In places his narration really makes me smile, but boy is he a corrupt, messed up character deep down. In short, He starts doing some very bad things.

This is a very strange book. I felt it was getting really juicy and grim, and then it tailed off. I was left a bit disappointed by the ending. However, I will continue to search for more of Jim Thompson’s books. I liked his gritty, tongue in cheek, brutal at times, style of writing.

I give Pop. 1280 7/10.

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