Sunday, 22 September 2019

Literary Landmarks: The Agatha Christie Mile

I love visiting literary landmarks and places that have inspired great writers so for my birthday this year, one of the things I did was walk the Agatha Christie mile at Torquay in South Devon. The map below can be picked up from the Tourist Information Bureau at the harbour in Torquay and provides you with a list of 12 landmarks you can spot along the way.

The Agatha Christie Literary Trail map
The Agatha Christie Literary Trail
Although I've been to Torquay many times before, I've never retraced the steps of the Queen of Crime, so it was exciting to see all the sites that Agatha would have visited when she was alive. 

Directly behind the Tourist Information Bureau is the bronze bust of Agatha Christie that was created to commemorate her centenary year in 1990. It's absolutely beautiful and was made by a Dutch sculptor called Carol Van Den Boom-Cairns.

Agatha Christie bust
Agatha Christie bust
Agatha Christie bust plaque
Plaque of statue unveiled in 1990
If you walk to the top of Beacon Hill and then go a little bit further on, the majestic Imperial Hotel stands just ahead of you. The hotel featured in 'Peril at End House' and 'Sleeping Murder' and was famously frequented by Agatha Christie herself. 

The Imperial Hotel at Torquay
The Imperial Hotel, built in 1866
On the way back down the hill, you pass the Royal Torbay Yacht Club, where Agatha's father Frederick Miller was a member.
You can also see some stunning views of Beacon Cove. In Agatha's day it was known as the Ladies Bathing Cove. She swam here frequently and once nearly drowned when she was 13.  

Beacon Cove at TorquayBeacon Cove at Torquay

Sadly the Pavilion is closed at the moment but this is the site of Agatha's engagement to her first husband Archie Christie.  
The Pavilion at Torquay
The Pavilion
As you stroll along the seafront, you can see the Princess Gardens which were featured in The ABC Murders. The Princess Theatre also hosts the official Agatha Christie Company tours each year.

It's also nice to walk to the end of the Princess Pier and back again. It was built in 1890 and was a favourite spot of Agatha's. She roller-skated on the Pier when she was a child.

The Princess Pier at Torquay
Princess Pier
As you walk back along the seafront to the train station, you pass The Grand Hotel. This was where Agatha had her honeymoon with Archie Christie on Christmas Eve 1914.

The Grand Hotel at Torquay
The Grand Hotel
There are a few other stops on the literary trail. You can visit Torquay's railway station, as well as the Torre Abbey gardens where there is an Agatha Christie Potent Plants Garden. I'm also hoping at some point to visit the Torquay Museum which is home to the Agatha Christie Gallery.

Have you walked the Agatha Christie Mile? If so, which landmarks did you enjoy seeing?

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Top 10 Agatha Christie books

2019 has been the year that I've discovered the genius and ingenuity of Agatha Christie, the undisputed Queen of Crime. I really don't know why it took me so long to actually pick up one of her books because I love whodunits and murder mysteries. Every year I watch the BBC TV Agatha Christie adaptations and last Christmas I also read 'The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle' by Stuart Turton which was AMAZING. In the notes at the end of the book, he said that he had always wanted to write a mystery as clever as Agatha Christie, so I think that sparked my desire to read the original novels. I started with 'And Then There Were None' which I absolutely loved and then decided to make a list of all of Christie's books which I faithfully hunted for in the library every week (with the help of my Dad!)

I've had a wonderful time binging on all of her stories, as well as watching as many TV adaptations as I could and visiting some of the famous Agatha Christie literary landmarks. The books have given me hours and hours of pleasure and in the future I'm looking forward to rereading them all over again.

I thought I would compile a list of my top ten Agatha Christie books but it's been so hard to narrow it down. I keep on changing my mind! I'm sure everyone has a different selection of favourites but after lots and lots of thought, I'm going to share mine. This is in no particular order as that would have been impossible to do!

Poirot's very first case and one featuring a wealthy heiress, a murder and a locked room mystery. Hercule Poirot is at his detecting best in this ingenious story which is an absolute classic.
Roger Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study. Who could have done it? Wickedly clever! About two-thirds through I had a crazy suspicion about who the murderer was and it turned out to be right...which believe me, surprised me too as I never normally guess right. Even then, the ending was still gasp-worthy and audacious, making me want to go right back to the beginning to read the book again.
Another Poirot mystery featuring a family in a small English village where anyone could be the murderer. I was completely wrong-footed the whole way through and the story kept me on the edge of my seat.
Absolutely fantastic! A totally engrossing read with twists and turns at every corner. Definitely one of the best Agatha Christie books I’ve read. Several deaths, a murder or two to investigate and a whole host of intriguing suspects (including one that I really didn't want to be guilty!)
The patriarch of an affluent family is poisoned and found dead. Suspicion falls on his various family members, including his much younger widow, any one of whom could have wanted him dead. Agatha Christie said that this was one of her favourite books to write and it's not hard to see why.
Poirot's very last case where he returns to Styles with Hastings by his side. Even though Poirot is at the end of his illustrious career, he still has his 'grey cells' working and he's still cleverer than any other character I've ever come across. The great detective remains great until the very end.
When I started reading this book, I was surprised about the change of direction that Christie seemed to have gone in. A happy marriage between a wealthy heiress and the man she meets didn't seem like it would lead to death and destruction. However, the twist when it comes is diabolical. You have to just keep on reading.
The only Miss Marple mystery to make my top 10 but it's a good un'. When a murder is announced in the newspaper of the small town Chipping Cleghorn, it's handy that Miss Marple is around to help investigate. I made a guess early on about who I thought the murderer was and then was proven completely wrong when they turned up dead. Hmmm. I decided I didn't have a clue who was responsible for the crimes and so made an outlandish, wild guess and it turned out to be right!
All the key ingredients are there in this Poirot murder mystery aboard the famous Orient Express. After a man is found murdered on the train, the question is which of the passengers is the guilty party? Everyone seems to have an alibi and someone seems to want to pin the crime on Poirot himself. I loved everything about this book, including the fact that I didn't have a clue how the story was going to conclude.
A small island off the coast of Devon and ten strangers who end up stranded together with a murderer on the loose. This is classic Agatha Christie from start to finish. You won't be able to put it down.
So many wonderful books from one author! I love the fact that Agatha Christie wrote such a colossal number of novels and short stories because it's meant that I've been able to binge on and devour her entire back catalogue. I need recommendations now for other books in a similar style. I've read 'The Hunting Party' by Lucy Foley and 'The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle' by Stuart Turton but if anyone knows of clever whodunits by other authors then please let me know.
Have you read any Agatha Christie books? If so, what are your favourites?

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Review: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Published: 3rd May 2018

He is a broken, wild thing, his heart’s nature exposed by his beastly form. Long ago cursed with a wretched existence, the Beast prowls the dusty hallways of his ruined château with only magical, unseen servants to keep him company—until a weary traveler disturbs his isolation.

Bewitched by the man’s dreams of his beautiful daughter, the Beast devises a plan to lure her to the château. There, Isabeau courageously exchanges her father’s life for her own and agrees to remain with the Beast for a year. But even as their time together weaves its own spell, the Beast finds winning Isabeau’s love is only the first impossible step in breaking free from the curse . . .

This book first came to my attention a long time ago. The beautiful cover initially caught my eye, then I read the blurb and put it on my list of books that I had to read. It's taken me this long to get hold of a copy so I was extremely excited to stumble upon it in my local library.

It's no secret that I love fairy-tale retellings. I can't get enough of them. What was intriguing about 'The Beast's Heart' is that it takes the traditional story of Beauty and the Beast and retells it from the point of view of the Beast himself. So instead of the story being told by the female characters, events are shown through the eyes of the Beast, as he tries to break the curse set upon him.

All of the key and familiar elements of the story were present. A tired traveller arrives at the Beast's home and spends a single night under his roof, picking a beautiful rose before he leaves which he plans to give to his youngest daughter Isabeau. The Beast has dreamt about Isabeau and is desperate to meet her, so he fools the old man into sending him his daughter. In return, he will grant the old man his freedom. Isabeau duly arrives at the Chateau and recognising his loneliness, agrees to spend a year with the Beast. During that time, she is afforded every luxury, as magic weaves its way around their lives and the Beast tries to win her love to free himself of a fairy's curse.

The Beast is a character that I've always liked because although he at first seems monstrous to the eye, he actually has a heart of gold. He's consumed by his loneliness which makes him desperate for company and longing for love. Glimpses are shown of his past and hints given about the reason for his transformation but personally I would have liked to have found out more about his family history. Maybe a few occasional flashbacks to the events that led him to his present situation. I loved seeing him evolve though and learn to become less 'beast' and more 'man'.

One of my favourite things about the book, was the fact that not only do we get to see things through the eyes of the Beast, but we also get to watch Isabeau's family through the Beast's magic mirror. Her two sisters who have been left behind, initially seem rather lazy and discontented but Claude and Marie soon start to change their attitudes and turn their lives around - discovering just how satisfying it can be to learn to cook and keep house. In the process, they enjoy their own romances which develop throughout the course of the story.

I really enjoyed 'The Beast's Heart' but I might possibly have liked it more if I hadn't also recently read 'A Curse So Dark and Lonely' by Brigid Kemmerer (read my review here). The latter is one of my books of the year and was such a perfect retelling with a twist of Beauty and the Beast, that Liefe Shallcross's book paled a little in comparison. Saying that, you can never have enough interpretations of fairy-tales and this one was enchanting and magical, lulling me with a promise of happy ever after.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please considering purchasing via my affiliate links from Amazon or the Book Depository.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Review: American Royals by Katharine McGee

Publisher: Penguin
Published: 5th September 2019

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren't just any royals. They're American. And their country was born of rebellion.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America's first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she's breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn't care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there's Samantha's twin, Prince Jefferson. If he'd been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

This was a fantastic read. It is an imagining of what America would be like today if instead of being President, George Washington had been made King. His descendants would therefore be sat on the throne today. It is a book that will appeal to you if you're Royal Family obsessed, can't stop reading all the news about Harry and Megan or even just love scandal, romance, gossip and a touch of intrigue. 'American Royals' has it all.

The story centres around the Washingtons - Princess Beatrice, the heir to the throne, Princess Samantha, the spare and the wild child and her twin brother Prince Jefferson. The book focuses on telling the story from the female characters point of view, so there is also Daphne Deighton who wants to finally win Jefferson's heart and climb back into the court's favour, as well as Nina - a commoner who has grown up with the Royal Family but never quite felt like she fit in.

My favourite character in the book was Beatrice and her struggle to reconcile what she truly wants with the needs of the Crown. She has a pre-destined role to play that she has been groomed for since she was young. She has to make a lot of sacrifices along the way and often struggles between her head and her heart. I enjoyed seeing her start to grow in self-confidence and exert herself more as she carries a lot of pressure and expectation on her shoulders. As well as Beatrice, Nina was an intriguing character because she is on such familiar terms with the Washingtons but at the same time, always feels like she's on the fringes. It was interesting to see how her involvement with them had an impact on other areas of her life and how she isn't entitled to the same level of protection from the eye of the media.

I enjoyed this book so much. Light, fun and a real pleasure to read. I actually thought it was a standalone but the way that it ends leaves a lot of things unresolved, so I sincerely hope that there is more to come.

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please considering purchasing via my affiliate links from Amazon or the Book Depository.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Review: Unleashed by Amy McCulloch

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 22nd August 2019

When Lacey Chu wakes up in a hospital room with no recollection of how she got there, she knows something is up. But with her customizable smart pet, Jinx, missing in action and Moncha, the company behind the invention of the robot pet, up to something seriously sinister, she’s got a lot of figuring out to do. Lacey must use all her engineering skills if she has a chance of stopping Moncha from carrying out their plans. But can she take on the biggest tech company in North America armed with only a level 1 robot beetle...?

'Unleashed' is the second part of Amy McCulloch's brilliant duology which began last year with 'Jinxed'. I was very excited to read this and I wasn't disappointed! It was great to return to the world of Monchaville and to see all my favourite characters again.

If you haven't yet read 'Jinxed' then I would strongly suggest doing so before starting this one. Everything will make a lot more sense to you in terms of the futuristic setting. Basically, society has now evolved to the point that instead of smart phones, everyone has a baku. This is essentially an innovative smart device which is leashed to its owner and comes in the form of different animals. A basic level 1 baku will typically be an insect such as a beetle or a butterfly, a level 2 baku could be a dormouse and they get increasingly more sophisticated in size and technology as the levels go up. The Bakus are designed to make life easier for their owners and so are able to screen messages, display maps, provide entertainment and communication and basically see to their owners every need. I actually think they sound incredible, although it's slightly scary to think that we might not be as far from this kind of technology becoming real as we first assume.

The story picks up a month on from where the previous book left off. The main character Lacey Chu wakes up in a hospital bed with no idea of how she got there or what happened to her. The only thing she does know is that her scarab beetle Slick is acting suspiciously and Jinx is missing. It's a good thing that she has Team Tobias by her side to help work out what's going on. Not everything in Monchaville is as it seems and as Lacey and co begin to connect the dots, it seems that something sinister is brewing behind the scenes.

I love the fact that McCulloch depicts a strong female protagonist with seriously good STEM skills. Lacey is an incredible engineer and her ingenuity and tech know-how ultimately help to save the day. This is an area in which teenagers really are the future as they innovate, design and develop some amazing new technology that we may well be using sooner than we think.

Lacey is on a crusade to figure out what is really going on with Moncha Corp and why they are so desperate to get their hands on Jinx. I really enjoyed seeing her and Team Tobias work together to investigate Moncha and the disappearance of their founder Monica Chan. They work like a well-oiled machine and there is no doubt that they have each other's backs. It was great to see more of Lacey's friend Zora in the book too as she has some wicked coding skills.

'Unleashed' unfolds at a fast and furious pace which I think is probably slightly due to the fact that this is a duology and not a trilogy. There's no slow middle book to get in the way, just a whole lot of action and excitement to keep the reader immersed in the story. There are lots of shocks and surprises along the way and I was often on the edge of my seat. I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen to Lacey, her friends and family and I was hooked until the very last page.

Only problem now is that I really want a baku of my own!  

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Review: See All The Stars by Kit Frick

Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 22nd August 2019

Then: They were four—Bex, Jenni, Ellory, Ret. (Venus. Earth. Moon. Sun.) Electric, headstrong young women; Ellory’s whole solar system.

Now: Ellory is alone, her once inseparable group of friends torn apart by secrets, deception, and a shocking incident that changed their lives forever.

Then: Lazy summer days. A party. A beautiful boy. Ellory met Matthias and fell into the beginning of a spectacular, bright love.

Now: Ellory returns to Pine Brook to navigate senior year after a two-month suspension and summer away—no boyfriend, no friends. No going back. Tormented by some and sought out by others, troubled by a mysterious note-writer who won’t let Ellory forget, and consumed by guilt over her not entirely innocent role in everything and everyone she’s lost, Ellory finds that even in the present, the past is everywhere.

See All The Stars by Kit Frick book cover
After finishing this book, I felt like shouting from the rooftops that everyone else should read it too. It's really that good. I was glued to the story from start to finish and majorly impressed to discover that this is Kit Frick's debut novel. Holy moly! The story is wonderfully depicted and Frick's writing is gorgeous. I absolutely loved it.
'See All The Stars' is a YA contemporary thriller that keeps you guessing as you're teased about something that's happened to change the main character Ellory's whole existence. Once she was part of a group of four friends who did everything together, told each other everything and were as tight and unbreakable as friends could be. They all gravitated around Ret, the ringleader of their little group and Ellory's best friend. But that was Then. When they enjoyed lazy summer days, flirtations with boys and the heady beginnings of love.
The story switches backwards and forwards between Then and Now. Ellory has been away from school for two months and is finally returning to Pine Brook for her senior year. No longer friends with the other girls, she is a loner who only wants to finish the school year and move on to whatever the future has in store for her. There are hints that something terrible has happened. Something that Ellory is still consumed with guilt about but the big mystery is what?
I really did love this book which was gripping, and compulsive reading. I spent a lot of time trying to guess the twist but I also just enjoyed the way that Frick explored the friendship between the girls and the way in which they are so entangled in each other's lives. It's interesting to see Ret at the centre of the group having brought them all together and the fact that without her, Ellory, Bex and Jenni might not have anything else in common. I liked the way in which this was depicted because I think it's often true of real-life friendships where people end up becoming friends with others through association. The bond between Ellory and Rex is all-consuming and this lies at the heart of the story. There are touches of romance too, with Ellory falling for the alluring Matthias who she stumbles upon at a party but the strongest relationship in the book is the one between her and Ret.     
It was interesting to see the disintegration of Ellory and the struggle she goes through without knowing what has caused it. I felt a lot of empathy for her character but also admiration at the way she tries to rebuild her life and move on.  
If you are a fan of this genre and love YA fiction then I beg you to read 'See All My Stars'. It's a five star read that is absolutely captivating. After just one book, Kit Frick is now on my auto-buy list, so I'm looking forward to reading next her second novel 'All Eyes On Us'.   
If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.
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