The Murder at the Vicarage – Agatha Christie

Colonel Protheroe is murdered in the vicarage, not long after the vicar Len Clement has expressed his dislike of the man. Protheroe was not a popular man in the village of St Mary Mead and the list of possible suspects seems long, but luckily an elderly observant woman by the name of Miss Marple is on the case.

This is the first Marple novel by Agatha Christie and it is typical of her type of story – lots of characters and plenty of red herrings. I enjoyed reading it very much and I didn’t work out who the murderer was. I was surprised that the story was narrated by the vicar but it worked well, and I liked the characterisations in general. However there seemed to be several similar gossipy old ladies and it was difficult to keep track of which one was which. However this was an enjoyable read and I look forward to reading more Agatha Christie in future.

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

In 1930s Edinburgh, Miss Jean Brodie has chosen her six favourite girls in her class, the Brodie Set, and she chooses to give them what she believes is a more valuable education, in matters such as her personal love life, travels, art history and classical studies. Miss Brodie informs the girls regularly that she is in her prime, and tells them of her love triangle with Gordon Lowther, the singing teacher, and Teddy Lloyd who teaches art. As the girls grow older, Miss Brodie tries to live vicariously through them.

This novel is short and easy to read. There are several jumps in time but this doesn’t make the narrative confusing at all. It keeps the mystery in the story as we are told very early on that one of Brodie Set betrays Miss Brodie, but the culprit isn’t revealed until the end.

I enjoyed this novel very much, and liked the writing and the cleverly structured narrative.

North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell

When her father decides to stop being a minister and leave the church due to religious doubts, Margaret Hale and her parents move to the north of England from Hampshire. Although she isn’t keen on her new industrial surroundings at first, Margaret learns of the local mill workers’ poverty and suffering, and develops a sense of social justice. When she tries to discuss the treatment of employees with the mill owner, John Thornton, a tempestuous relationship develops.

I enjoyed the characterisation in the novel, and particularly liked Margaret as a character. The matters of social justice that are raised would have been innovative at the time, but I felt the novel was too long and at times unfortunately a bit of a slog to read.

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death – James Runcie

This novel is six short mystery stories starring Sidney Chambers, a young priest in the 1950s who helps his friend Geordie, a Police Inspector, to solve the crimes.

I enjoy the ITV Grantchester series set on the books and I was looking forward to reading the first novel, and I wasn’t disappointed. I like Sidney as a character. He is far from the stereotypical vicar, and he is depicted as a ‘normal’ human being who enjoys an occasional drink and likes jazz music. There was also a good mixture of mysteries, such as murder, theft and forgery. A great light read, and I look forward to reading more in the series.

Right Ho Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse

I first tried reading something by P.G. Wodehouse a few years ago and for whatever reason I couldn’t get into it. I have no idea why, because I loved reading Right Ho Jeeves, the second full length novel featuring Jeeves and Bertie Wooster.

Bertie is fed up. Not only does Jeeves disapprove of his new white mess jacket, but his family and friends all think that Jeeves gives better advice than him. To try and prove them wrong, he insists on taking on a number of problems to solve, such as bringing together his friend Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline Bassett, cousin Angela and Tuppy Glossop’s broken engagement, and Anatole the chef’s resignation.

I found the writing extremely funny and now definitely want to read more P.G. Wodehouse.

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

When Cora Seagrove’s cruel husband dies, she moves to Essex along with her autistic son Francis and her companion Martha. There she hears the story of the Essex serpent, who the villagers believe has returned after a man’s body was found in the river. She also meets the rector William Ransome, and there is an unspoken attraction between them.

The gothic elements of the novel are prevalent, the villagers believe they are being punished and that is why the serpent has returned. There is also a lot of hysteria, particularly during one incident at the school.

I was a little underwhelmed with this novel. The writing style is absolutely beautiful, but I found the pace very slow, particularly during the first half. For me it didn’t quite live up to the hype it has received.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

A snowdrift stops the Orient Express from running. It is unusually full for the time of year, and when an American tycoon is murdered overnight, Hercule Poirot begins to question every passenger in turn.

Although I’ve read some Agatha Christie before this is the first Poirot novel I’ve read. I already knew the plot and the outcome, but I didn’t feel this spoiled my reading experience. Christie’s writing style is very easy to read, and the amount of details she includes is very clever and her plotting is brilliant.

My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier

I confess I hadn’t heard of My Cousin Rachel until I saw a trailer for the recent film when I was at the cinema, and as it looked good I decided to read it before watching the film.

This mystery novel tells the story of Philip Ashley, who after the death of his parents is brought up by his cousin Ambrose. He and Ambrose get on splendidly, so when Ambrose goes to Italy and ends up marrying while he is there, Philip feels a little jealous and lonely. Ambrose’s letters start to become more strange, and suggest that his new wife Rachel is not to be trusted, so when Rachel turns up in Cornwall after Ambrose’s death, Philip is initially determined to discover the truth, but Rachel’s charms are too overwhelming for him.

I’d previously read two of Du Maurier’s other novels, Rebecca which I loved, and Jamaica Inn which I didn’t enjoy as much, but I thoroughly enjoyed My Cousin Rachel. I love that the novel never reveals whether Rachel is guilty or not and lets the reader decide for themselves. The writing is gripping and extremely clever to keep you guessing throughout.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

I’ve been wanting to reread some Roald Dahl books ever since the centenary celebrations of his birth back in September last year. Having seen the musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last autumn I decided to choose it as my first reread.

Charlie Bucket’s family are poor, and can only afford to give him one chocolate bar a year on his birthday, so when the owner of the local chocolate factory, Willy Wonka, starts to give away golden tickets for a tour of the factory in his chocolate bars, Charlie’s odds don’t look good. However, through a stroke of luck, he manages to get his hands on a precious golden ticket and goes on an adventure to meet Willy Wonka with his Grandpa Joe.

It’s a very easy and fun read full of the Roald Dahl wit everyone knows and loves and his characterisations are fantastic, and I particularly loved Grandpa Joe. It was a lovely nostalgic read as I’ve loved the story since I was little, and I’m looking forward to rereading more Roald Dahl and revisiting some other childhood favourites.

The Light Fantastic – Terry Pratchett

This is the second published novel in the Discworld series and it picks up immediately from where The Colour of Magic left off. It describes the continued adventures of the wizards Rincewind, Twoflower and of course the Luggage.

I found this much easier to follow than its predecessor, The Colour of Magic because there are far fewer subplots. It’s a great light hearted fantasy story, and very humorous and witty.

Apparently the Discworld series gets better and better as it goes along. I’m looking forward to reading more and discovering for myself!