The Taking of Annie Thorne – CJ Tudor

taking of annie thorne cover

“Even before stepping into the cottage, Gary knows that this is bad.”

Joe Thorne is back in his childhood town. Nothing’s changed; everything’s different – mainly Joe. As his lies – his resume, his gambling habit, his very reasons for being back – start to unravel, slowly, through the course of the novel, we start to find out about all the dark things that happened in Joe’s past. What he and his friends found in the abandoned mines. What happened to his little sister…

The Chalk Man was a standout read for me last year before (where is time going?!). TToAT is similar enough to appeal to fans of that book, using a similar flashback structure, but not slavishly following the same pattern. We still have the dark past, the childhood horrors. This time I’m reminded not of IT and The Body, but other works of Stephen King: Desperation and Pet Semetary. And yet, these are not copies or pastiches, so mentioning those inspirations isn’t giving away as much of the story as you might think.

Joe is not the most likeable of characters, and yet he is. The gambling and drinking problems add a very dark element – in a way, even more so than the ‘horrors of the pit’. That, I think, is where CJ Tudor’s work appeals to me a little more (these days) than King’s: the psychological horror rather than the supernatural, the deeper look into a person’s thoughts.

I’m going to say the book is creepy rather than out and out horror, but there are tinges of both. I am absolutely going to use the word ‘unputdownable’ – after a Saturday morning read in bed, I was disappointed not to be able to go back to the book later that evening, but also utterly unwilling to creep myself out before sleep! So I ended up reading the last 40% (!) on Sunday morning, in one go!

The ending is satisfactory rather than outstanding, but the entire story is well crafted and well written, and well worth the read.

NetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 38 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 5th-10th February 2019

My rating: 8/10

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A Dangle A Day – Angela Porter

a dangle a day cover

“A dangle is a beautiful string of charms you can use to decorate all kinds of things, including alphabets, shapes, borders, illustrations, quotations, and anything else you can think of.”

I got into zentangling a while back – sort of doodling with rules – and I’ve been meaning to get back into it for ages. I’ve also taking to Bullet Journalling in a big way, finding it a fab mix of my needs to be organised and a bit creative. So when I spotted A Dangle A Day on NetGalley, it looked just my thing – and I was right!

The first section is on lettering. This has always appealed to me, and there are plenty of step-by-step examples – one for each letter and number, each in a different kind of style to mix and match – which will be very handy when I’m stuck for inspiration.

The second section is on seasons. Doodles and ‘dangles’ can look quite simple, but coming up with ideas is half the battle. The author took that work out of the equation for me, providing dozens of examples of just the kinds of seasonally-appropriate little doodles I was after, be that holly or bells for Christmas, hearts and flowers, or more abstract designs, plus colour schemes that match the seasons.

The actual ‘dangle’ part of the title refers to stringing doodles together in streamer-like chains, and while I wasn’t too sure about that part to begin with, the description of using them as BuJo section breaks was a lightbulb moment. They were also perfect for decorating my Christmas card envelopes.

Dangles and zentangling and doodling are lovely, relaxing and just ‘nice’ activities that I recommend wholeheartedly, and this book is a fantastic resource for inspiration. There are sections after each example for you to have your own go, if you have the physical book, but even if not – get the pens out, and have a play about. It’s great for the soul 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 147 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Finished reading: 9th February 2019

My rating: 9/10

Past Due for Murder – Victoria Gilbert

past due for murder cover

“It’s amazing how much easier it is for people to learn something when you turn lessons into stories.”

A Murder for the Books introduced us to Amy Webber, small town librarian caught up in a murder mystery which it turns out her research skills and logical mind are well-suited to solving. The second instalment, Shelved Under Murder, allowed both the character and the story confidence to grow, and with the third in the series I think we’ve really hit stride.

As Amy’s small town gears up to boost tourism by reintroducing the historical May Day festival, a local folklore expert’s tales of young women disappearing on the eve of May Day seems also to be revisiting the town. But as some go missing, other old faces are making unwelcome reappearances in Amy’s (love) life…

As ever, I’m less keen on the romance element that tends to accompany cosy mysteries, but actually the lack of generally fluffiness about this series helps the relationship aspect not feel too saccharine. I am still annoyed with the otherwise rational and logical character tending to fly off the emotional handle where her men are involved, but otherwise, fair ’nuff.

I can tend to be a little sniffy about cosy mysteries in my reviewing, but I actually really enjoyed this. It was a nice light and easy read, with enough going on to hold my attention and make me look forward to curling up with the book when I could. The pace does dip a little in the middle, but almost as soon as I was finding it a little ‘meh’, I hit the start of the revelations and couldn’t put the book down despite the late hour!

Looking forward to more from Amy – even if it requires a bit of her love-life along the way 😉

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 3
Read from 28th – 31st January 2019

My rating: 7/10

Brain Chatter Declutters – Leonid Altshuler

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“All I know today about different meditation techniques I learned in Nepal, where years ago I spent some time living in a monastery where I had a teacher, Master Bishal.”

As stated in an earlier post, I’ve been practising meditating for several years now, but I always like reading books that can perhaps bring a fresh insight into the whole thing, or just remind me why I enjoy it. This is not that book.

It starts off in a very forced, chatty style that instantly got on my nerves. The author was so desperate to attend a retreat to ‘fix’ himself, he then gets there and doesn’t even give it a chance before he’s announcing it as a waste of time – I smell “Let’s pretend to raise doubts my audience might have!” Of course, the whole thing turns out to be a magic cure, for the author and then in the second part for his ‘case study’ whose tale is told in exactly the same irritating tone.

All of which would be fine, if not for the quasi-medical tone. “It is well known” and “several studies have shown” is not actual scientific research, even if backed up by a handful of random links at the end. Either do science properly, or – even if what is being said is true – it comes across as wishy washy faux pseudo-science.

Mercifully short, this still manages to repeat a whole block of information – despite the author also giving over a few paragraphs on why he’s keeping the book so short – as if putting it in twice somehow legitimises the medical premise.

The thing is, the information could well be true. The author might indeed be a doctor. And there’s nothing new or controversial in claiming that meditation can help with all sorts of health issues – in fact, the link between mindfulness and stress really is ‘well-known’ and scientifically backed. The link to ‘metabolic syndrome’ and insulin resistance might well be too, but the way this book is written makes it all feel very flaky and doubtable, or that to really benefit you, too, would have to go spend months at an exotic retreat.

Not recommended, although meditation is well worth doing regardless of such books.

NetGalley eARC: 45 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 20th-27th January 2019

My rating: 3/10

You Are Not Your Thoughts – Frances Trussell

you are not your thoughts cover

“There’s a quiet revolution going on, people everywhere are beginning to wake up from the daydream of their thoughts.”

I’ve been meditating, to a certain extent, for several years now, but there’s always space for another refresher on some of the whys and wherefores. Step forward You Are Not Your Thoughts.

I don’t think there was anything ‘new’ for me in this book, but it was very well put together, reminding me why I meditate and some of the different approaches I could think about revisiting (my practice has probably fallen into a rut). For newcomers to mindfulness and meditation, everything is laid out very straightforwardly to get you started, and the quick introduction to different forms will let you figure out if one type of meditation suits you better.

I loved the tone of the writing. Mindfulness books can so often either go towards total ‘mystical’ airy-fairy-ness, or try too hard to go the other way and end up being almost insultingly dumbed down in a chatty, pop-culture “Oh, it’s just so cool, yah?”. YANYT straddles the line perfectly, leaning a little towards the more spiritual but in a very accessible, down to earth fashion.

This is definitely one of the better meditation books I’ve read. I used my bus journey home from work to read it, slowly, and I can genuinely tell you that I’ve never found traffic jams so relaxing!

NetGalley eARC: 105 pages
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 20th December – 20th January 2018

My rating: 8/10

Campion at Christmas – Margery Allingham

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“Sir Leo Pursuivant, the Chief Constable, had been sitting in his comfortable study after a magnificent lunch and talking heavily of the sadness of Christmas while his guest, Mr Campion, most favoured of this large house-party, had been laughing at him gently.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for Campion, after enjoying the tv adaptations when I was younger. Took me a long time to get around to any of the books – starting with The Crime at Black Dudley – and to be honest I’ve still only read a couple. However, a set of four short stories from Margery Allingham, based at Christmas, just sounded lovely!

And, they are quite sweet. Three of the four, On Christmas Day in the Morning, The Man with the Sack, and Word in Season,  involve Albert Campion, two of those solving mini mysteries and the other one a slice of family life with a very very large dollop of whimsy. I enjoyed all of these, picturing Peter Davison in the role, and who doesn’t love dogs with the last one? 🙂

The other story, Happy Christmas, the second in the collection, is a different beast. While clearly about Christmas, it doesn’t feature Campion and to be honest I was left scratching my head a little over what it was all about. Nothing wrong with it, it’s still a sweet little slice of period frippery, just not entirely sure what I was missing. It’s the oldest story, too, published in 1937 compared with the 1960s for the others.

If you’re a fan of Campion, this is a short but lovely little compilation of cosy mystery niceness that conjures images of a more gentile time.

NetGalley eARC: 63 pages / 4 short stories
First published: 2018 (as collection), 1937-1965 (originally in various magazines)
Series: Campion short stories
Read from 16th-17th December 2018

My rating: 7.5/10

The Novel Art of Murder – VM Burns

novel art of murder cover

“‘What the blazes do you mean I didn’t get the part?'”

Sam Washington’s life has been a bit of a rollercoaster since we first met her in The Plot is Murder, and then again in Read Herring Hunt. Her small town is in danger of turning into the new Cabot Cove (from Murder She Wrote) with yet another mysterious death, and another person close to Sam accused of murder! This time, she has just a week to save her Nana Jo from the Big House, after a rival takes her lead role in the local am-dram play…

Cosy mysteries are my snuggle up for a bit of fluff reads, and I adore books about books. Bonus with this series is Sam’s own efforts at writing a mystery – alas, these are rather the low point of the whole affair. They pad things out nicely, allow for a change of pace, and explain well Sam’s leaps of intuition over the real cases, but they also serve to make the rest of the book look great in comparison. Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie but falling quite far short, especially in dialect, and the whole sub-mystery is tied up in a sudden revelation from nowhere.

Aside from that, the book also allows Sam’s life to continue to grow as has been building in the series. Everything – aside from the murder! – is running rather wonderfully, and that too is a nice counterbalance to the ‘oh no, another death!’.

This leans heavily into the ‘cosy’, with very little in the way of peril despite a few sobbing fits from some of our leading ladies. I still love the elderly band of sleuths helping Sam, although the teenagers are all a little too nice and helpful to be realistic 😉

I like this series, but it’s probably going to remain ‘okay’ rather than ‘great’. And I’m fine with that. This one is a little better than the preceding volume, and I’d still happily reach for the next installment.

NetGalley eARC: 256 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Mystery Bookshop book 3
Read from 12th-16th December 2018

My rating: 6/10