WWW Wednesday: 20th May 2020

This Book Tag is hosted by Taking On A World Of Words.

What I’ve read, What I’m reading, What’s next.

What I’ve Read

Title: Orphan Monster Spy

Author: Matt Killeen

Star rating: 5 / 5

Mini review/synopsis:

Talented, artistic, oppressed. Sarah has been learning to survive in a world that has become dangerous for her, her mother, and all other Jewish citizens throughout Europe. So what is a girl to do when she becomes unexpectedly orphaned? That’s right. She becomes a spy in a boarding school for the Nazi elite in 1939.

Sarah is one of my favourite novel protagonists in a long time. She is resourceful, ballsy, BRAVE, and mouthy. I love how she deals with her horrific situation, how she strategises and overcomes.

Matt Killeen expertly weaves Sarah’s backstory and experiences of being Jewish in increasing oppressive Austrian/German societies in the 1930s into the wider plot, which I found very educational. I found myself doing lots of research to fill in the gaps where my own knowledge was sadly lacking in this area of European history (this was further sparked by the Author’s note at the end of the novel). The plot was SO GOOD. Excellently paced and the twists towards the end of the novel were so brilliantly unexpected, I found myself moving the book as far away from me as I could whilst still being able to read.

A thrilling, well researched book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I cannot wait to read book 2 and, hopefully, learn some more about the Captain!

What I’m Currently Reading

Title: The Big Four

Author: Agatha Christie

First Impressions: will be at least a 4 star read

The story so far:

I am loving being back with Poirot, my favourite fictional detective. So far we have had a gentleman climb through Poirot’s apartment window and promptly drop dead. Now Poirot is on the tail of The Big Four, a mysterious criminal organisation. What’s more Hastings, Poirot’s friend, is back to narrate the story for us! I’m enjoying this one so far, but then I always enjoy a Christie.

What I’m Reading Next

Title: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Author: Holly Jackson

This is a re-read before I read the sequel Good Girl, Bad Blood. Click here to read my review and keep your eyes peeled for a review of book 2.

Blurb:

The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it. But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the crime, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth . . .

Review: A Very English Murder by Verity Bright

A Very English Murder, by Verity Bright

Format: e-Arc

Published date: 7th April 2020

⭐️ 2 / 5

Thank you to NetGalley who kindly provided this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’d like to apologise for this long overdue review. I was sent this e-ARC a while before lockdown began. A busy few weeks at work pre-lockdown and the initial lockdown blues of being unable to concentrate enough to read have prevented me from reading and reviewing this book. I did manage to read this in its publication week and I’m happy to be finally sharing my thoughts.

Plot

Our protagonist, Lady Eleanor, witnesses a murder. Except the body vanishes, and the police seem to have no desire to investigate. So Ellie begins sleuthing around the village to solve the murder herself. On the surface this is my perfect book. This concept is so intriguing and I thought this would be a real brain teaser of a novel. Unfortunately not.

The plot began painfully slowly and didn’t really start getting anywhere until around half way through. Honestly I thought the whole first half of the novel could have been cut and it wouldn’t have impacted the story. There was one small side character introduced in the first few chapters that popped up again later in the novel to be useful in ultimately solving the crime, but otherwise there was nothing remotely useful or entertaining in the first half of the novel. Once the plot finally got a move on, everything was very predictable. I felt like there were a lot of missed opportunities for real red herrings and twists to really get the reader going. Unfortunately, I felt the plot was severely lacking in this area.

There was a lot of effort made to drip feed Eleanor’s backstory into the novel. This was the main thing that kept me interested in the book. All I wanted to know was what happened to Ellie’s parents and more about her global travels. *Spoiler alert* we don’t find out what happened to Ellie’s parents. I can only assume this is planting seeds for later books in the series however the mystery element of this mystery novel was not executed well enough for me to read another book in this series.

Characters

Ellie is a confusing character. She spends the first 20 chapters doing absolutely nothing except despising other characters in the book for not taking her seriously because she’s a woman. Bright uses Ellie’s every line of thought or dialogue to express that the police in the little village Ellie now lives in is backwards as there are no female officers. She constantly provides social commentary that the men around her are underestimating her before she even opens her mouth based on the fact she’s a woman. She even goes as far as to suspect characters of murder based on how they treated her as a woman and not a shred of motive or anything remotely relevant. The first couple of times it’s brought up, fine, that’s setting the scene. But after that? Honestly, Jesus Christ I get it. The novel is set in 1920s England. We know the social position of women in this time. I felt it was irrelevant to the plot or the character development, especially considering no semblance of a plot was taking place. The second the plot began heading somewhere, the ridiculous commentary stopped clearly showing it served no purpose.

So Ellie was set up as being very pro-women’s rights and very forward thinking for her era, so I thought ‘great’! Surely this means Bright is going to use her protagonist to shut down irritating tropes of women in the 1920s right? HAHAHAHA WRONG. Every time an attractive man enters her field of view she suddenly can’t function and goes weak at the knees. It’s all blushing and feeling faint when an attractive man strays too close. Very cliché.

So which is it? Fainting flapper girl and a hopeless romantic, or trailblazing modern roaring 20s woman (who FYI could have romance without the stereotypical weak, woozy, fainting cr*p).

Clifford, the butler, is a pain in the rear. One of his personality quirks is he is very pedantic. Fine, that’s established early on. But sometimes it feels like this gets in the way of meaningful dialogue and it SERVES NO PURPOSE. Honestly so infuriating.

I did however love the rest of the cast of household staff who each had distinct personalities, really contributed to Ellie’s character development and felt like tangible people.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately this book just left me feeling kind of meh. For the most part it felt like I was reading FanFiction of something, and I’d like to point out I’ve read novel-quality FanFic, but this is more an inexperienced author who hasn’t found a voice. The voice is confused, the third person narrative doesn’t work when Eleanor spends so much time inside her own head and voices dialogue to the dog instead of having the novel written in first person…but maybe that’s just me?

I’m really upset that I didn’t enjoy this book as the blurb sounds like everything I adore in a novel. I really expected so much more from this book…

I’d like to thank NetGalley again for sending this e-Arc to me in exchange for an honest review.


Blurb:

Move over Miss Marple, there’s a new sleuth in town! Meet Eleanor Swift: distinguished adventurer, dog lover, dignified lady… daring detective?

England, 1920Eleanor Swift has spent the last few years travelling the world: taking tea in China, tasting alligators in Peru, escaping bandits in Persia and she has just arrived in England after a chaotic forty-five-day flight from South Africa. Chipstone is about the sleepiest town you could have the misfortune to meet. And to add to these indignities – she’s now a Lady

Lady Eleanor, as she would prefer not to be known, reluctantly returns to her uncle’s home, Henley Hall. Now Lord Henley is gone, she is the owner of the cold and musty manor. What’s a girl to do? Well, befriend the household dog, Gladstone, for a start, and head straight out for a walk in the English countryside, even though a storm is brewing… 

But then, from the edge of a quarry, through the driving rain, Eleanor is shocked to see a man shot and killed in the distance. Before she can climb down to the spot, the villain is gone and the body has vanished. With no victim and the local police convinced she’s stirring up trouble, Eleanor vows to solve this affair by herself. And when her brakes are mysteriously cut, one thing seems sure: someone in this quiet country town has Lady Eleanor Swift in their murderous sights… 

WWW Wednesday 22 April 2020.

This Book Tag is hosted by Taking On A World Of Words.

What I’ve read, What I’m reading, What’s next.

What I’ve Read

Title: Hold Back The Tide

Author: Melinda Salisbury

Star rating: 5 / 5

After attending the book launch for Hold Back the Tide in the middle of March (the last weekend I left the house before lockdown), I read this in two sittings right afterwards.

This book is a punchy, thrilling, and quite frankly terrifying little novel. Set in the wilds of Scotland, we follow 16 year old Alva and her murderer father’s lives on the Loch. Just as Alva is ready to carve her own path, everything she thought she knew flips on its head and she must survive unbelievable horrors past and present.

Hold Back the Tide is Melinda Salisbury’s first stand-alone novel and I loved it. Very unsettling from the beginning, this is an eye-opening spin on the consequences of our abuse of natural resources. I would also happily state that the first chapter is easily the best YA novel opening I have ever read. Alva is also a kick ass protagonist and sports my own horrific brand of gallows humour.

In short, I would highly recommend this book.

What I’m Currently Reading

Title: A Very English Murder

Author: Verity Bright

Star rating prediction: 2.5 – 3.5 / 5

First impressions:

I assumed I was going to adore this book from the offset because it’s set in 1920s England with an amateur female detective sleuthing around. However, so far I’ve found the protagonist mostly irritating at best. The plot concept is great (Lady Swift has witnessed a murder but there is no body, the scene is clean, yet everyone is acting shady and then the victim turns up dead elsewhere in an apparent accident), but so far it’s less ‘getting on with the plot’ and more ‘the author has a bee in her bonnet over 1920s sexism’.

Baring in mind the era this novel is set in, I fully understand the situation with regards to men’s attitudes towards women at the time. Even a little bit of set up to paint that picture is absolutely fine. However, every third paragraph the narrative is side-tracked by Ellie’s social commentary of historical sexism.

‘Oh that man is disregarding my opinion because I’m a woman.’ 3 sentences later: ‘Oh I wish we had female police constables in this village like in some of the northern cities, but even those women are babysat by men on the force.’

It’s the 1920s. We got it the first time you mentioned it. We’re in an era 2 years post some women getting the vote. Society is male-dominated and backwards. Fine. Understood. Get on with the plot.

I’m over half way through and so far not a lot has actually happened. Here’s hoping it improves because I really want to like this book…

What I’m Reading Next

Title: Orphan Monster Spy

Author: Matt Kileen

Blurb:

A teenage spy. A Nazi boarding school. The performance of a lifetime.

Sarah has played many roles – but now she faces her most challenging of all. Because there’s only one way for a Jewish orphan to survive at a school for the Nazi elite. And that is to become a monster like them.

Survive. Deceive. Resist.

They think she is just a little girl. But she is the weapon they never saw coming… with a mission to destroy them all.

January 2020 Wrap-Up

This month I’ve been trying to get back into blogging properly. The last half of 2019 was a bit of a nightmare if I’m honest. I failed an exam, and therefore my degree, so had to re-sit during the summer ahead of my delayed graduation this month. I was busy trying to find a full-time job with no degree classification. I also had my very busy summer job to contend with. With all of this going on I was barely reading, let alone keeping up with my blog or instagram. So far, 2020 has started off pretty well on the reading and blogging front so hopefully the rest of this year will follow suit.

Here’s what I’ve been getting up to in January.


What I’ve Been Reading

I have managed to read

  1. The Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
  2. The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
  3. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
  4. One Of Us Is Lying, Karen M. McManus
  5. One Of Us Is Next, Karen M. McManus
  6. The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1), Agatha Christie
  7. The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence #1), Agatha Christie

7 books is a really good reading month for me. I’m finally starting to get back to the numbers I was reading before uni broke me! Here are some of my highlights.


Most Pleasant Surprise: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

2 brilliant 20 somethings running around London and involving themselves in espionage in the 20s?! YES PLEASE. Tuppence is a total bad ass woman! Perfect book to bring a bit of the roaring 20s into the 2020s! Oh, and a little love story on the side! Now a firm favourite and I cannot wait to read the rest of the Tommy and Tuppence novels.

Most Anticipated: One Of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus

Holy sh*t, the reigning YA Thriller Queen did NOT disappoint with this sequel. I wondered how on earth a sequel would be written but wow, wow, wow. McManus nailed it. We checked in with the Bayview Four whilst meeting new characters and a new game. This was also a OOUIL switcheroo as this time we were playing catch up and trying to work out who was dead rather than who did it, although we were trying to figure out the mysterious puppet master of the truth or dare game… Already my favourite read of 2020 and it will take a fair amount to knock it off top spot.


Christie 100 – My crazy reading challenge

If you haven’t seen my post already, I’ve decided to read all 66 of Agatha Christie’s novels (written under her own name) this year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Agatha’s first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Because apparently my life isn’t already busy enough…

This is also my own personal celebration of one of the only successful people to come out of my hometown and my reminder that I can absolutely ace my life like she did.

Click here to read all about it!


What I’ve Been Watching

The Crown, Season 3. You, Season 2. The Good Place, Season 4. Gavin & Stacey, Christmas Special 2019. Grace & Frankie, Season 6.
NB. I do not own these images. Image rights belong to Netflix, NBC, and the BBC respectively.

Season 3 of The Crown was the most disappointing so far, in my opinion. The only improvement is that Prince Philip hasn’t been painted as a villain in the same way seasons 1 and 2 did. Princess Anne is woefully under-used, which is a shame because her character has some of the best lines in the series. I also feel like there’s lots of important historical events missing that could have been included and far more interesting than the persistent personal speculation the whole series involves itself in.

Writers and producers should be careful with a historical drama like this that concerns living memory because lots of viewers seem to use this programme as a documentary and a gospel of these events. It needs to be made much clearer that this is a dramatisation based on true events where lots of artistic licence has been taken. Otherwise, it’s a slippery slope that will only get steeper as the seasons bring the show more and more up to date.


The next series of You hit Netflix shortly before the New Year and let’s just say it makes for rather uncomfortable viewing. If you’re thinking of watching this I should point out these trigger warnings:

  • Violence. Big time.
  • Child abuse.
  • Sexual assault.
  • Gaslighting.

After a hiatus from the middle of December until the middle of January, season 4 of The Good Place is finally back! I love this show, it’s so damn wholesome and I really don’t want it to end. Chidi and Eleanor 5eva 😉.


I couldn’t mention my viewing habits this month without shouting about the Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special!!! After nearly a decade we finally caught up with the Barry Island and Billericay crews! I have 2 overwhelming thoughts following Christmas Day (and the 15 or more times I’ve re-watched the episode already 😂):

  1. YOU CANNOT LEAVE IT LIKE THAT
  2. WILL WE EVER FIND OUT WHAT THE SH*TTING F*UCK HAPPENED ON THAT FISHING TRIP?!

January 2020 has seen the return of Grace & Frankie on Netflix! Hit, feel-good comedy about 2 women who are forced into friendship (and living together) after their husbands leave them for each other! I devoured this in an afternoon, as I have done with the release of most of the previous series’. I already cannot wait to watch season 7, although I’m very upset that this will be the last…

Next time…

In February I’m planning to finally read Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series, especially with film #2 being released on Netflix on the 12th.

Keep up to date with what I get up to on a daily basis on my Instagram stories @beauteaful.reads

Christie 100 Challenge

2020 sees the 100th anniversary of the publication of Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

So…

I’m going to do something slightly crazy

Yep. All of her novels. All 66 in publication order.

For the time being I’m not including any short stories, plays, Mary Westmacott books, or the Detection Club books Agatha collaborated on (with the intention of preventing my brain from melting under the sheer volume of Christie I’m already attempting to read). We’ll see how I get on though.

You can follow this Reading Challenge here on Beauteaful Reads and any of my social media channels. There is a story highlight available on my Instagram and I’ll be posting more regular Christie 100 reading updates there.

If you’d like to join me, please tag your posts and updates with #Christie100. The official website for all things Dame Agatha Christie are staging an official reading challenge #ReadChristie2020 with a category for each month and a suggestion of which of her novels fit the description. So if my mammoth 66 novel challenge seems too much, maybe take some inspiration and try 20 Christies in 2020.


Christmas 2019 Book Haul

This Christmas has seen me trying to fit a new bookshelf worth of books into my car boot to get back to London with me. I’ve ended up with quite the bookstack under my tree to add to my TBR. This calls for a Christmas Book Haul!

British Library Crime Classics

I discovered the existence of this series towards the end of last year, which made my little crime fiction freak heart very happy. Helpfully, my relatives bought me these titles. I’m really looking forward to discovering some new classic crime authors!

  • Crimson Snow, ed. by Martin Edwards
    • – Anthology of winter mysteries with fictional detectives, forgotten gems from great writers, and classics by lesser-known writers
  • The Long Arm of the Law, ed. by Martin Edwards
    • – Anthology of murder mysteries with a focus on the criminal investigations.
  • The Dead Shall Be Raised & The Murder Of A Quack, George Bellairs
    • – 1940s England. A dead body from a cold case. A skeleton.
  • The Incredible Crime, Lois Austen-Leigh
    • – Cambridge University. A drug smuggling ring. A wealthy Lord. Female student must solve the mystery.
  • Family Matters, Anthony Rolls
    • – Unhappy marriage. Handsome London bachelor. Traditional English countryside.
  • Scarweather, Anthony Rolls
    • – 1930s novel. North England Coast. Set just before WWI.
Cilka’s Journey, Heather Morris

Last year I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and it was one of the highlights of my reading year. Cilka’s Journey is the heartbreaking sequel to that book, based on what is known about the real Cilka.

As 2020 is the year we are marking the 75th Anniversary of the end of WWII, I am going to add this book to the list of my reads to commemorate the conflict and the atrocities the planet experienced under it.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Finally! The book a thousand people have recommended to me but I haven’t got around to yet. Let’s hope it lives up to my expectations.

Comment below on your thoughts if you’ve read The Night Circus, or leave links to your reviews. Good or bad, I want to hear them.

The Invisible Library, Genevieve Cogman

A picture of this book has sat on my camera roll for nearly 2 years reminding me I need to buy it and read it. A spy and a library of dreams. It sounds right up my street and I’m really looking forward to reading it!

Five Dark Fates, Kendare Blake

This is book number 4, and the concluding novel, in the Three Dark Crowns series which I read last year. I’m really looking forward to reading this however I think a re-read of the rest of the series is in order before I dive into this one. At the moment I’m still very much #TeamArsinoe, I wonder if I still will be at the end of the series?

If you’ve read any of the Three Dark Crowns books comment below who your Queen is!

A London Year, Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison

This ‘chunky boi’ is a collection of letters and diary/journal entries about London for each day of the year, and the only non-fiction book I received this year. I might see how long I can keep up with reading these either daily or weekly.

I hope you found all the books you were hoping for under your Christmas tree this year.

I’d like to wish you all a

Happy New Year 2020!

Review: Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus

Two Can Keep A Secret, by Karen M. McManus

Pages: 336

Published: 10th January 2019

⭐️ 5 / 5

After reading One Of Us Is Lying, I was excited to read another Karen M. McManus book as soon as possible. I would go as far to say that she is a contender for one of my favourite authors. I love that crime/thriller/mystery (a genre I LOVE) is starting to appear as a leading sub-genre of young adult and it’s being done SO WELL. McManus is leading the charge with excellently written YA mysteries and I hope she’s publishing books annually for a long time to come. Those of you who have read my review for One Of Us Is Lying will know that I really enjoyed it, and I preferred this novel so get ready for me to blow the trumpets at Two Can Keep A Secret!

Plot

Two Can Keep A Secret is told from two narrative points of view: Ellery, niece of a girl who vanished during her senior prom decades ago; and Malcolm, brother of the prime suspect in the murder of a second prom queen 5 years ago. This worked really well for weaving the plot threads of the two previous unsolved murders into the central action of this novel. I usually struggle with multiple narrators because I tend to favour one and resent having to endure the other POV, however McManus uses this to build tension and set the pacing which drove me mad – a clear indication of a good mystery novel for me. I got the sense of multiple timelines without time jumping (which is another trope I dislike for the most part and was glad it was so expertly worked around) giving me 3 murder mysteries for the price of one. The choice of narrators was also very cleverly calculated as this expanded the world building. Although Ellery and Malcolm were friends, they didn’t cross over too much meaning that we could explore more of the town through each of our narrators. The small-town setting was done really well and used very well too. Coming from a small(ish) town myself, I felt the local drama/curtain twitching/nosey neighbour elements of the plot were very accurate and added to the mystery as you’re left wondering how such a busy-body community could be harbouring so many unsolvable secrets. I got absolutely lost in this novel and easily polished it off in one sitting, which I would happily do again and again. Honestly, I did guess part of the outcome around half way through (far later than I did with One Of Us Is Lying though) however there were plenty of other twists that I didn’t predict. This book was definitely a firm favourite YA Murder Mystery read of 2019 for me.

Characters

I really enjoyed the point of view of both POV characters. Ellery was very relatable for me as a fellow true-crime addict. I love that fictional young women obsessed with true crime and murder mysteries are starting to emerge in novels, especially in this section of YA. It’s nice to see myself in books – and come on, we all secretly adore serial killer documentaries don’t we 😉 ? She’s a feisty, intelligent character and we need more Ellerys in our fiction. Ellery and her twin Ezra have an excellent rapport/banter going on and McManus has written this sibling relationship very well. Malcolm is the second POV character and I honestly just want to give him a hug. Mia finishes off the 4-strong friend squad that’s central to the novel and she is a diamond of a character too. The extended cast include popular Katrin, who happens to be Malcolm’s step sister, work colleague Brooke, and the twins’ gem of a grandmother. Each of the characters are fully realised and flawed and believable. McManus constructs an air of suspicion around each of them too which constantly played with my opinions of them. I really hope she finds a way back to these characters as she has with Bayview High and One Of Us Is Lying.

Final Thoughts

I hope this somewhat lengthy review conveys just how great this book was. One of the easiest 5 stars I’ve given for all of my 2019 reads, and a book I fully intend to re-read this year too. Keep an eye out for my next Karen M. McManus book review this month as I read One Of Us Is Next after its release this week!

Blurb:

A perfect town is hiding secrets. Two teenagers are dead. Two murders unsolved. And a killer who claims to be coming back. Ellery’s never been to Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen’s murder five years ago made national news and where Ellery now has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, after her failed-actress mother lands in rehab. Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen’s death. His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace. His mother’s remarriage vaulted them to Echo Ridge’s upper crust, but it could all change when mysterious threats around town hint that a killer plans to strike again. And the return of Malcolm’s brother doesn’t help matters. But his return is just a coincidence… isn’t it? Ellery and Malcolm both know it’s hard to let go when you don’t have closure. Then another girl disappears. As they race to unravel what happened, they realise every secret has layers in Echo Ridge. The truth might be closer to home than either of them want to believe. And somebody would kill to keep it hidden.

from Waterstones – I am not affiliated with this, or any other, bookshop.

12 Reads of Christmas 2019: Day 8

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, Arthur Conan Doyle

“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people do not know.”

– Sherlock Holmes
Continue reading “12 Reads of Christmas 2019: Day 8”

12 Reads of Christmas 2019: Day 2

And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie

“I don’t know. I don’t know at all. And that’s what’s frightening the life out of me. To have no idea….”

– Rogers, the butler
Continue reading “12 Reads of Christmas 2019: Day 2”