Posted in 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best (September 2014 to September 2018)


5 Star Reads

In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. I will be celebrating Five years of blogging later this year and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.

One of the fascinating things I find looking back over these posts is some months seem to have far more varied types of reads than others – I’m beginning to suspect September has that whiff of ‘back to school’ about it with an urge to broaden my horizons being evident.

You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.

In September 2014 though it was very much an old favourite which is the winner. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie had me caught up in what may have been express travel in the 1930s when the book was written but seemed to be anything but to a modern reader. I loved the range of characters, the level of research undertaken by Agatha Christie to make sure the details were correct, as well as pitting my inferior little grey cells against Hercule Poirot’s vastly superior ones.

The plot is ingenious, and I can only imagine how it was received as this book doesn’t really meet the conventions of crime fiction for the time it was written. With a cracking pace alongside a despised victim the pleasure was all about seeking to fit the clues together into a fitting scenario. The ending has to be one of the best ever with all the travellers called to the fine dining car as Poirot outlines two possibilities of what could conceivably explain what happened in carriage number 2. I can’t imagine a more perfect finale.

Blurb

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stopped the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train was surprisingly full for the time of the year. But by the morning there was one passenger fewer. An American lay dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.
With tension mounting, detective Hercule Poirot comes up with not one, but two solutions to the crime. Amazon

In September 2015 I was blown away by The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, a fabulous historical novel of the like that could only have come from the pen of this incredibly talented author.

Set in the 1940s this book tells a story in reverse starting with 1947, travelling back to 1943 before ending at the beginning with 1941.

Knowing the ending, or at least part of it, before you get to the beginning of a story lent this book a peculiar feeling of poignancy, as well as inevitably giving the reader a few ‘ahh’ moments as the actions of our main characters begin to make a little more sense once we know what had happened in the past. This way of revealing the story also meant that I wanted to go back to the beginning, willing the 1947 part to go just that little bit further, to give me some sense of completeness to the character’s lives that hold the promise of a future never to be told.

This was simply superb and reading my original review makes me want to pick up the story again while still hoping that the ending/beginning will somehow reveal something different…

Blurb

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked out streets, illicit liaisons, sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch is the work of a truly brilliant and compelling storyteller.

This is the story of four Londoners – three women and a young man with a past, drawn with absolute truth and intimacy. Kay, who drove an ambulance during the war and lived life at full throttle, now dresses in mannish clothes and wanders the streets with a restless hunger, searching . . . Helen, clever, sweet, much-loved, harbours a painful secret . . . Viv, glamour girl, is stubbornly, even foolishly loyal, to her soldier lover . . . Duncan, an apparent innocent, has had his own demons to fight during the war. Their lives, and their secrets connect in sometimes startling ways. War leads to strange alliances . . .

Tender, tragic and beautifully poignant, set against the backdrop of feats of heroism both epic and ordinary, here is a novel of relationships that offers up subtle surprises and twists. The Night Watch is thrilling. A towering achievement. Amazon

September 2016’s entry is a psychological thriller; Before I Let You In by Jenny Blackhurst. I love it when friendship is the basis of this sub-genre as these are often more complex than any romance.

In Before I Let You In there are three friends, Karen a psychiatrist, Eleanor a mother to a young child with relationship problems and Bea a single woman whose problems stem from the past. And then Jessica walks in for an appointment with Karen and seems to know all about Eleanor!

The plotting was superb, and despite me having an inkling where the fishy smell was strongest, there was plenty to ponder over, actions to be contemplated and of course trying to fix the pieces of the puzzle into a whole picture. If you enjoy a psychological thriller which features realistic characters and a strong storyline, you should definitely consider reading this one.

Blurb

Karen is meant to be the one who fixes problems.

It’s her job, as a psychiatrist – and it’s always been her role as a friend.

But Jessica is different. She should be the patient, the one that Karen helps.

But she knows things about Karen. Her friends, her personal life. Things no patient should know.

And Karen is starting to wonder if she should have let her in . . . Amazon

2017 saw me wowed by another historical fiction, this time The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis.

Margaret Penny returns to Edinburgh after some thirty years away and returns to her mother’s home. She is not given a warm welcome, or even a proper bed but given that she feels she has no choice except to leave London, she has to take the scant comfort on offer. Margaret takes up a job offer to locate the family of the recently deceased to save the local council spending money on their funerals.

One of Margaret’s first jobs is to sift through the belongings in one flat of an elderly woman. With a beautiful green dress seeming out of odds with the rest of the detritus of a life the hunt begins.

This is a book full of themes which while at times quite a dark tale flicking backwards between the 1930s and the present day from London to snowy Edinburgh as well as moving between one claustrophobic household to another; I loved every minute of it.



Blurb

Somehow she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name . . .

An old lady dies alone and unheeded in a cold Edinburgh flat on a snowy Christmas night. A faded emerald dress hangs in her wardrobe; a spilt glass of whisky pools on the floor.

A few days later a middle-aged woman arrives back in the city she thought she’d left behind, her future uncertain, her past in tatters.

She soon finds herself a job at the Office for Lost People, tracking down the families of those who have died neglected and alone.

But what Margaret Penny cannot yet know, is just how entangled her own life will become in the death of one lonely stranger . . . Amazon

There was a clear winner for this year’s entry for the five star award and that was The Shrouded Path by Sarah Ward. I’m not sure how this author keeps producing crime fiction set in Derby of such high quality but, this number four in the DC Connie Childs series, is even better than those which preceded it.

With the tale split between the past in 1957 and an equally evocative present, the mystery has its heart in an old railway tunnel near Bampton. A girl went into the tunnel never to reappear and it seems that now someone wants to be certain that the secrets from the past stay firmly hidden.

One of my favourite aspects is that all the characters are great, they are all genuine people, police as we like to imagine our local police force to be; caring and diligent with an absolute drive to get to the truth. And boy do they show their tenacity in this novel.

Blurb

The past won’t stay buried forever.

November, 1957: Six teenage girls walk in the churning Derbyshire mists, the first chills of winter in the air. Their voices carrying across the fields, they follow the old train tracks into the dark tunnel of the Cutting. Only five appear on the other side.

October, 2014: a dying mother, feverishly fixated on a friend from her childhood, makes a plea: ‘Find Valerie.’ Mina’s elderly mother had never discussed her childhood with her daughter before. So who was Valerie? Where does her obsession spring from?

DC Connie Childs, off balance after her last big case, is partnered up with new arrival to Bampton, Peter Dahl. Following up on what seems like a simple natural death, DC Childs’ old instincts kick in, pointing her right back to one cold evening in 1957. As Connie starts to broaden her enquiries, the investigation begins to spiral increasingly close to home. Amazon

Five of the Best 2018

January 2018
February 2018
March 2018
April 2018
May 2018
June 2018
July 2018
August 2018

Posted in 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best (September 2011 to 2015)

5 Star Reads

As I have now been reviewing for over five years I thought I’d highlight my favourite book for each month from 2011 until 2015 to remind myself of the good ones. When we are talking five years ago, they must be good if I still remember them!

2011

My favourite read of September 2011 was one that I still recommend widely today, for those who missed it the first time around! Into The Darkest Corner was the debut novel by  Elizabeth Haynes and it is a book that has haunted me ever since with its realistic portrayal of domestic violence and OCD.

Into the Darkest Corner

Blurb

When young, pretty Catherine Bailey meets Lee Brightman, she can’t believe her luck. Gorgeous, charismatic, and a bit mysterious, Lee seems almost too perfect to be true.
But what begins as flattering attention and spontaneous, passionate sex transforms into raging jealousy, and Catherine soon discovers that Lee’s dazzling blue eyes and blond good looks hide a dark, violent nature. Disturbed by his increasingly erratic, controlling behavior, she tries to break it off; turning to her friends for support, she’s stunned to find they don’t believe her. Increasingly isolated and driven into the darkest corner of her world, a desperate Catherine plans a meticulous escape.
Four years later, Lee is behind bars and Catherine—now Cathy—is trying to build a new life in a new city. Though her body has healed, the trauma of the past still haunts her. Then Stuart Richardson, her attractive new neighbor, moves in. Encouraging her to confront her fears, he sparks unexpected hope and the possibility of love and a normal life.
Until the day the phone rings . . . Goodreads

2012 yr

In September 2012 my favourite book was by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed over many years, don’t let the pretty cover fool you, this book covers some serious issues; The Rose Petal Beach by Dorothy Koomson

The Rose Petal Beach

Blurb

Every love story has a dangerous twist.
Tamia Challey is horrified when her husband, Scott, is accused of something terrible – but when she discovers who his accuser is, everything goes into freefall. Backed into a corner and unsure what to think, Tamia is forced to choose who she instinctively believes. But this choice has dire consequences for all concerned, especially when matters take a tragic turn.
Then a stranger arrives in town to sprinkle rose petals in the sea in memory of her lost loved one. This stranger carries with her shocking truths that will change the lives of everyone she meets, and will once again force Tamia to make some devastating choices… Goodreads

2013yr

My choice for September 2013 is a really emotional book, I Came To Say Goodbye by Caroline Overington, a story told exceptionally well and mainly by letter, in reverse.

I Came To Say Goodbye

Click on the book cover to read my review
Blurb

It was a crime that shocked the world.
The CCTV footage shows a young woman pushing through the hospital doors.
She walks into the nursery, picks up a baby and places her carefully in a shopping bag.
She walks out to the car park, towards an old Ford Corolla. For a moment, she holds the child gently against her breast and, with her eyes closed, she smells her.
Then she clips the baby into the car, gets in and drives off. This is where the footage ends.
What happens next will leave a mother devastated, and a little boy adrift in a world he will never understand. Amazon

2014yr

In 2014 I revisited an old favourite, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, sadly no other books stand the test of time quite so well as this one.

Murder on the Orient Express

Click on the book cover to read my review

Blurb

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stopped the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train was surprisingly full for the time of the year. But by the morning there was one passenger fewer. A passenger lay dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Goodreads

2015yr

For a change choosing my favourite read of the most recent month has proved simple, without a doubt it has to be The Night Watch by Sarah Waters!

The Night Watch

Click on the book cover to read my review

Blurb

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked-out streets, illicit partying, and sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch tells the story of four Londoners—three women and a young man with a past—whose lives, and those of their friends and lovers, connect in tragedy, stunning surprise and exquisite turns, only to change irreversibly in the shadow of a grand historical event. Goodreads

I hope you have enjoyed my trip through my June reads, if you missed the previous months you can find them here although sadly I didn’t manage to do the list for July and August so it looks like this series may continue into 2016 after all!

January Five of the Best
February Five of the Best
March Five of the Best
April Five of the Best
May Five of the Best
June Five of the Best

Posted in Weekly Posts

WWW Wednesday (September 24)

WWW Wednesday green

Hosted by Miz B at Should be Reading

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon by Linda Newbery which is proving to be an absorbing read.

Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon

Blurb

It was the day when everything stopped.
At quarter past two on a hot afternoon in August, Anna’s beautiful, headstrong elder sister Rose disappears.
Twenty years later, Anna still doesn’t know whether Rose is alive or dead. In her early thirties now, she sees her future unfolding – with sensible, serious Martin and a grown-up, steady job – and finds herself wondering if this is what she really wants.
Unable to take control of her life while the mystery of her sister’s disappearance remains unsolved, Anna begins to search for the truth: what did happen to Rose that summer’s day? Amazon

I recently finished Murder on the Orient Express by the wonderful Agatha Christie
Click on the cover to read my review

Murder on the Orient Express

Next I am going to read This Little Piggy by Bea Davenport

This Little Piggy

Blurb

It’€™s the summer of 1984 and there is a sense of unease on the troubled Sweetmeadows estate. The residents are in shock after the suspicious death of a baby and tension is growing due to the ongoing miners’€™ strike. Journalist Clare Jackson follows the story as police bungle the inquiry and struggle to contain the escalating violence. Haunted by a personal trauma she can’t face up to, Clare is shadowed by nine-year-old Amy, a bright but neglected little girl who seems to know more about the incident than she’€™s letting on. As the days go on and the killer is not found, Clare ignores warnings not to get too close to her stories and, in doing so, puts her own life in jeopardy. NetGalley

What are you reading this week?

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

I recently picked up a 1972 edition of Murder on the Orient Express at a book sale for the princely sum of 50p and then spent a very pleasant time reading this, one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels for the first time in years.

Reading a book when you know what happens, particularly when that book is from the mystery genre, may seem a little bizarre but what I’m realising is that I now notice nuances that perhaps evaded me before I immersed myself in crime fiction and so there was plenty to keep me amused on this fascinating journey, mine being more successful than the Orient Express’s as I didn’t encounter any snow-drifts.

This book was originally published as a novel in 1934 following Christie’s trip on the train where she noted down all the details required to perfectly recreate the scene, yes the placing of the lock on the interconnecting doors was researched to that level of detail! Christie used the real life disappearance of the abduction of Charles Lindbergh’s son as inspiration for the plot indicating that the Queen of Crime relied on real criminals to recreate in fiction, something that some commentators complain that it is disrespectful for our contemporary authors to do.
Anyway back to the plot, a closed room (or train) mystery featuring Poirot who just happens to be on the Orient Express on his way back to London from Istanbul to deal with an urgent matter, after all travelling days on a train was the response to something urgent in the 1930’s. Once aboard the train which is unusually full for the time of year Poirot is approached by a Mr Ratchett who tells him that his life is being threatened and he needs protection. Poirot having taken a dislike to the man while at the hotel in Istanbul declines to take on the job stating ‘I do not like your face Mr Ratchett. On the second night of the journey Mr Ratchett is stabbed to death and since the train is stuck in a snow-drift the Yugoslavian Police are unable to attend so it falls upon dear old Poirot to carry out the investigation.

The plot is peppered with clues and the characters each drawn to enhance the differences of culture and class so that the reader is easily able to follow the various suspects and their actions so that while the amateur sleuth is pitted against the far superior little grey cells of Poirot they still have a chance to solve the mystery, and what a mystery it is!

I love this book the plot is ingenious, the pace fast and the victim a man who is despised by all so not a moments sorrow is wasted upon the deceased instead the pleasurable seeking the clues and fitting them together into a fitting scenario but best of all is the ending where with all the travellers are called to the fine dining car as Poirot outlines two possibilities of what could conceivably explain what happened in carriage number 2, and I can’t imagine a more perfect finale.

Which is your favourite Agatha Christie novel?