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!

Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

Outlander is the first in a series of historical adventure novels by Diana Gabaldon, set in Scotland. Claire Randall is on holiday with her husband when she is suddenly thrown back in time to the Highlands in the eighteenth century. There she meets Jamie Fraser, and romance ensues amid the danger.

This was a fun read, and although any synopsis might sound cheesy it is better than it sounds! I’m not very knowledgable at all on the history of Scotland during the Jacobite risings so it was interesting to learn more about that period. It’s an impressive first novel, but it is quite long and I found it dragged a little occasionally. I was also surprised to learn that there are 8 novels in total so far – I’m not sure whether the plot is strong enough for that many books, but I will probably read the next in the series at some point.

The Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad

Adolf Verloc lives in London and runs a shop with his wife Winnie. They also live with Winnie’s mother and her brother, Stevie, who has learning difficulties. Adolf is recruited as a spy to take part in a plot to set off a bomb in Greenwich, but things go horribly wrong.

I have also read Heart of Darkness by Conrad which I found incredibly difficult to read, but I wanted to try another of his novels to see whether it was that particular book or his style of writing. The Secret Agent has confirmed that his writing is not for me! It’s very dense and difficult to follow, however it did get a little easier the further into the story I read. I think the fact that I had watched the recent BBC adaptation also made things easier!

I’m glad I gave his writing another try, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up anymore of his novels.