The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie

Arthur Hastings is on leave recuperating during the First World War. When on convalescence he meets an old friend, John Cavendish, who invites Hastings to stay with him and his family at Styles. While he’s there, John’s stepmother, Emily Inglethorp, is murdered, and Hastings persuades John to allow his friend, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, to investigate.

This is the first of Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries and I found it very enjoyable. Some of the language is is very dated, but the mystery itself is intriguing and Poirot is a fantastic character.


The Constant Princess – Philippa Gregory

The Constant Princess describes the early life of Katherine of Aragon, beginning during her childhood living in the Alhambra with her parents, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, and then telling the story of her marriage to Prince Arthur and then King Henry VIII.

As most people know, the basis of Henry VIII’s justification for divorcing Katherine was his interpretation of a Bible passage that a man will be childless if he marries his brother’s wife. Katherine always swore that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, but in her novel Gregory assumes that this was a lie, that Arthur and Katherine were very much in love and that she swore to him on his deathbed that she would marry his brother to become queen.

I found Katherine (or Catalina, as she was before she married Henry) a difficult character to like initially. She’s very headstrong, devout and unyielding. However, by the second half of the novel I grew to like the characterisation a lot more as she develops from a naive and stubborn princess to an informed queen. I suspect this character development was intentional by Gregory, as by the end of the novel Katherine realises that some elements of what she was always told and believed since she was a child are wrong.

I always enjoy Gregory’s writing style; this is written in a mixture of third person and first person from Katherine’s perspective. However, I did find parts of the novel a little repetitive at times, particularly when there were several consecutive passages where Katherine was telling Arthur stories from the Alhambra. Having said that, learning of some of the history of the Alhambra and the Spanish royals was interesting.

Philippa Gregory’s novels are always fun to read and informative, and she always manages to maintain interest and suspense despite the fact that most readers know what is going to happen. This isn’t my favourite book of hers, but it was definitely worth a read.

The Casual Vacancy – J.K Rowling

The sudden death council member Barry Fairbrother is shocking for the small village of Pagford. His space on the town council intensifies several divisions in the community regarding the changing boundaries with the nearest large town, Yarvill, particularly regarding the local council estate, The Fields.

This novel was quite slow at first and nothing much really happens until the end, but as with all of Rowling’s writing her characterisations are strong. Not my favourite Rowling novel but a pleasant enough read.


The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

Anthony collects items that people have lost, and stores them at home, labelling each one and sometimes using them as inspiration for his writing. In his will, he leaves all his possessions and his home to his housekeeper, Laura, who decides to try and reunite the lost items with their owners.

I bought this story before going on holiday as I wanted something light to read, and this was described as ‘feel good’. I enjoyed it initially but it quickly became very predictable, sickly sweet and there were just too many coincidences and clichĂ©s. The appearance (for want of a better word) of the ghost in the last few chapters was the final nail in the coffin for me.


Equal Rites – Terry Pratchett

The dying wizard Drum Billet passes on his powers to a baby, who he believes is an eighth son of an eighth son. However, it turns out that this baby is in fact female. As Eskarina grows up the town witch, Granny Weatherwax, tries to teach her how to use witch magic, but the power of wizards is different and so they decide to head to the Unseen University where they try and challenge the traditional misogynistic views of wizards.

This is the third novel in the Discworld series and it is full of typical Pratchett humour, from the obvious (Esk’s home town is called Bad Ass) to the more subtle wordplay. I’m enjoying working my way through the series and meeting new characters along the way.


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.


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.