December 2018 Books

This post contains review of books that were provided free of charge by the publishers, in exchange for a review. 

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Well why wouldn’t I be posting about December books in the middle of February? I’m nothing if not totally on-brand.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
I decided to read all of the Poirot books as one of my 37 Before 37 goals; I’ve read many of them before, but I thought it would be good to tick them all off. I haven’t actually decided if I’m going to read them in chronological order, but the first Poirot book seemed like a good place to start. I’ve read The Mysterious Affair at Styles before, but I couldn’t remember the salient details, and so the murderer did come as a surprise to me. Obviously there are various caveats that come with reading Christie, but I can’t resist as they are so entirely entertaining.

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens
Now here’s a series that has all the entertainment factor of Agatha Christie’s books, without any of the accompanying uncomfortableness that reading Christie’s mysteries give you. This is the second in the Murder Most Unladylike series; I’m late to these books, but I’m enjoying discovering them when I chance upon them in the library or in charity shops. This story takes us away from Deepdean school and to the home of Daisy Wells, the president of the Wells & Wong Detective Society, where a murder takes place, and once again Daisy and Hazel are thrust into the centre of the mystery. Wonderful stuff.

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz*
December, as it turns out, was a very murdery month, in terms of books. This is also the second in a crime series; Anthony Horowitz has developed a story that includes himself as a main character. It’s an odd premise; it feels a lot like non-fiction, in that so many of the main parts of Horowitz’s life are used as plot points. His work on Foyle’s War, for example, is referenced frequently. But of course, the case itself, is entirely fictional: a barrister, known for his work on high-profile divorces, is found murdered, bludgeoned with an expensive bottle of wine. Suspicion falls on the ex-wife of one of his recent clients, and investigator Daniel Hawthorne is called in to help solve the crime. Horowitz (the character in the book, rather than the author himself) is writing the book on Hawthorne, so is once more brought along on the investigation.

As I said, it’s an unusual premise, and has the potential to feel like a gimmick, but I really like the set-up. The case itself is totally far-fetched, but I suppose that helps make the story more fantastical, given that the presence of the author as a character feels so weirdly normal. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did the first in the series, The Word is Murder, but it’s still a lot of fun, and I think there’s just enough more traction in the idea to warrant a third book.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper*
Read my full review of The Lost Man.

Black Roses by Jane Thynne
I find it very hard to resist stories set in the early 20th century, particularly if they centre around the upper classes. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated, I just am. Black Roses is set in Germany in 1933, a few years prior to the outbreak of war. Clara Vine is our central character, drawn to Berlin by the promise of an acting job at the famous Ufa studios. What she doesn’t expect is firstly to be drawn into a circle of Nazi wives, including Magda Goebbels, and then to be recruited by British Intelligence to spy on this group of women. This is a long book, but I devoured it while I was on holiday over Christmas. It’s the first in a series, so at some point I’ll be grabbing the next one to read.

In at the Deep End by Kate Davies*
This is another book I read while on holiday, having downloaded it from Netgalley without really having any idea what it was about. As it turns out, it’s about a woman named Julia, who thinks she is just unlucky enough to have had bad sex for the most part, but comes to realise that she’s actually been looking in the wrong place, i.e. at men. When she chances on a date with a woman, she realises what she’s been missing out on, and begins a very tumultuous relationship that is full of much more satisfying sex. This is not my usual kind of book: I’m no prude, but I just don’t tend to read books with graphic sex in them. And this is pretty graphic. But it was refreshing to read some modern fiction about someone who wasn’t straight (though as I acknowledged on Instagram, she was still late 20s, white, able-bodied, and living in London).

The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen*
I’m planning a full review of The Other Half of Augusta Hope at some point, because this doesn’t publish until June, and I don’t want to preempt it too much. Needless to say that I absolutely loved this book; I’d be surprised if it doesn’t have a similar impact to last year’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It’s the story of Augusta Hope, a twin, who has never felt as though she fit in, and is nothing like her sister Julie. It runs parallel with the story of a young Burundian man, Parfait, whose life is dictated by the civil war that ravaged his country. It’s beautifully written, and made me laugh and cry, and it was the perfect book to finish the year on!

Books in 2018 – 51

Books marked with an asterisk were provided by publishers.

AD: Book Review ~ The Lost Man by Jane Harper

I was recently offered the chance to read and review The Lost Man by Jane Harper. I received a copy of the book from the publishers, in exchange for a review.

Synopsis

Three brothers. One Death. No Answers. 

He had started to remove his clothes as logic had deserted him, and his skin was cracked. Whatever had been going through Cameron’s mind when he was alive, he didn’t look peaceful in death.

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of Outback Queensland. They are at the Stockman’s Grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects… 

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I’ve read and reviewed both of Jane Harper’s previous novels, The Dry, and Force of Nature. Both of those stories featured the same police officer, investigating two different cases. When I was offered the chance to review this one, I assumed that it was going to be the third in that series, so I was surprised when I discovered that it was a standalone story, though I needn’t have worried, because I think this was Harper’s best book yet.

Like her previous two novels, The Lost Man is set in the Australian outback, and once again, the location is hugely important to both the story and the atmosphere. Nathan, the oldest of three brothers, meets his youngest brother Bub, at the Stockman’s Grave, a local landmark, where their other brother, Cameron, has been found dead. Nathan lives apart from his family, at the next farm along, which happens to be hundreds of kilometres away. Everyone is isolated by the geography of the region, with Nathan having lived in exile on his own farm due to events from a decade previously.

The mystery of Cameron’s death is that he was used to life in these unrelenting surroundings, so it’s extremely unlikely that he would have left his vehicle without the necessary provisions. This leads police to believe that he must have taken his own life, but Nathan isn’t so sure, and begins his own investigations into his brother’s death.

Everything we learn about the family comes through Nathan’s eyes, who, having kept his distance, is finding out things that even he didn’t know. The story is revealed slowly and deliberately; this is a real slow-burn of a book, with family secrets buried deep.

Once again, as with her other two novels, I was blown away by Harper’s ability with both character and plot. The tension of the story, building to a climax with the reveal of what happened, and why it happened, grows to a point where I literally could not put this book down. The characters are, for the most part, people who I love spending time with, and as with Aaron Falk from Harper’s first two books, I found myself missing Nathan once he was gone.

Everywhere I look, I see that I’m not alone in my love for Jane Harper’s incredible stories, and I’m also not alone in loving each new book a little more than the last. With a trajectory like this, I really cannot wait to see what comes next!

The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Publication Date: 7th February 2019
Little Brown
Provided by publisher

 

Photo an Hour #54 ~ January 2018

Unbelievably, I am now a full year behind on my Photo an Hour posts. But there’s something quite nice about revisiting a random day from last year, so I’m not entirely sorry.

January 2018’s Photo an Hour day saw me in London visiting the History of Magic exhibition at the British Library. For some reason I decided that I wanted to post my photos in my stories instead of on my grid on Instagram, so they aren’t the best photos in the world!

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11am ~ Getting on the tube at Liverpool Street. It was a super rainy day, but of course, I had left far too early, and so had hours before my slot at the exhibition!

12pm ~ So I spent a good amount of time wandering around Bloomsbury, taking lots of photos of blue plaques, and having a look in bookshops. I assume that this building is a part of the British Library, but who knows?

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1pm ~ On my way into the exhibition, where you weren’t allowed to take photos, so I had to take a photo of this at the entrance.

3pm ~ A couple of hours later, I headed back out into the rain to seek out more blue plaques, and head to Persephone Books. I love their books, though I have to say that I found the shop itself a little intimidating (small, and not that warm a welcome by the member of staff working on that particular day), and because I always have too many books to read, I came away empty-handed.

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4pm ~ Back on the train and reading a book that does not even come close to comparing to even the worst book in Persephone.

5pm ~ Back in the car with Hannah, and on the way home, no doubt to sit by the fire and thaw out!

 

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We’ve gone an arranged the whole year, so if you’re looking to join in at some point, these are the days on which we’ll be playing! On the day, just upload a photo every hour and hashtag it with #photoanhour so we can all be nosy and take a look!

36 Before 36 ~ Leave the country for a holiday

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This serves as a round-up post for one of my 36 Before 36 items, despite me now being well into my 37 Before 37 list. 

Last year, I put ‘Leave the country for a holiday or mini-break’ on my 36 Before 36 list, as a way of trying to make sure I saw at least a little bit of the world. I’m not one of these people who has to have a foreign holiday every year, but travelling on a budget is easier than ever, and there are lots of countries I’d like to visit.

As it turned out, I was offered the chance to go on a press trip to a hotel in the Austrian Alps. This was organised through my day job, not through my blog (I can’t imagine that will ever happen!), as I work for a consumer magazine, and luckily enough, my friend Hannah was offered the chance to go as well (Hannah’s my travel buddy anyway, so it was great to do it together!).

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The hotel was Holzhotel Forsthofalm, located in Leogang in Austria. A short flight from Stansted to Salzburg (my inner Sound of Music fan was very happy to be there, even if we didn’t see any of the landmarks!), and then a transfer to the hotel, and we had arrived. It’s a really beautiful hotel, built up from humble beginnings when it was just a family restaurant, to what it is now – all the rooms are made from the forest wood of the mountains, and it’s set at a height of 1050m, so as you can imagine, the views are amazing.

As it was a press trip, the itinerary was all choreographed to really show off how great all the activities at the hotel are. We did lots of yoga, a couple of fitness classes, and also a couple of walks. The yoga classes were great; I don’t really do yoga, though given my job I know all the benefits, and every month when I read the magazine, I make a mental note to either book into a class or do some at home, and then never actually get around to it.

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The fitness classes were a bit more energetic than what I’m used to doing, given that I don’t do an awful lot of exercise at all. I quite enjoyed the bouncing fitness class, as it allowed me to channel my inner Busy Phillips.

My favourite bit of the whole hotel was the rooftop pool, gloriously heated so that despite the chillier temperatures (even in June, you’re still in the mountains), you can spend time in there and only your face is exposed to the cool air. And given that it’s right on the roof, the views are right there to be enjoyed.

It really is a very beautiful hotel, and I’d go back in a heartbeat if my budget ever allows it.

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