Monday, 12 March 2018


I’m nine books into my year – books being the best way to measure time of course and I feel that it is time to take a deep breath and order popcorn and ice cream and get ready to settle in for the next chapter.

In the next three weeks I’m hoping to finish these three books:
Ivanhoe ­– Walter Scott
Quiet – Susan Cain
Endless Night ­­– Agatha Christie

If you’ve read any of them comment below and let me know what you thought of them. I’ve loved all of them so far, but the biggest surprise was Ivanhoe. From the way it started I really didn’t think I would get on with it but it’s brilliant – so wonderfully melodramatic.

Endless Night is the last Agatha Christie I will be reading for a while and it is fast becoming my favourite. I read half of it in one sitting. And I’ve been glaring at everyone who has tried to talk to me while I’ve been reading it – yes it’s one of those.

It’s taken me nearly a year to read Quiet not because I don’t like but just because it was on my books to take my time over pile. Most people who I’ve talked to about this have already read it, so I’m late to the party but if you haven’t read this book and you’re an introvert, stop reading this blog and go buy it. If you want a little taste of what it’s like follow the link.

As well as reading I’ve also been busy writing with SallyMiller – maybe one day I will be able to measure time by how many writing projects I’ve finished. But for now I will just stick to measuring it by books. Anyone else measure time like this?

Monday, 5 March 2018

Sofa Spotlight - The Crooked House, Agatha Christie

It’s been a cold couple of days and if you’re done playing in the snow (if you still have any) then this is the book for you. I’m getting close to the end of my Agatha Christie trail, having said goodbye to Miss Marple and Poirot. The Crooked House doesn’t feature either detective and the story is told by the son of the Commissioner investigating the case. He just so happens to be wanting to become engaged to the granddaughter of the victim.

I’ve been reading this for a while – in fact I started it before Christmas. I was only half way through when it was on TV and so I couldn’t watch it because I didn’t want to spoil the ending for myself. So over the last couple of months in various coffee shops and many trains I’ve been trying to get to the end of it so I can find out what happened. It was most intriguing and what was even more pleasing was that I worked out who the murderer was.

The victim is an old man who lives in a bizarre house – both in architecture and also in who lives there. He has a young wife who falls immediately under suspicion. Joining her under that suspicion is the tutor of the two children, and it’s fairly obvious that they more than like each other. But then there is the rest of the family – his two sons from a previous marriage and their children. And also a sister in law. And of course in true murder mystery style they all have motives.

One of my favourite characters was the child, Josephine, who tells our main character, Charles, that she is investigating the murder because the police are stupid. She predicts that a second murder is coming and is correct. But really the best character was Edith de Haviland – she is a no nonsense kind of person who I think sees more clearly than the rest what is going on.

In my mind what makes this novel different to the Marple and Poirot mysteries is that you become invested in the relationship between Charles and Sophia. If they can’t solve the case then Sophia won’t marry Charles. But then there’s also the thought that what if Sophia is the guilty one. It’s an element that isn’t in the other novels and it makes for more interesting reading.

As endings go I was surprised at how satisfying it was. I’m not a huge fan of characters taking the law into their own hands but somehow it worked in this. It’s the kind of ending that makes you shudder with relief.

I’ve only got one more Agatha Christie to read this time round – and I’m hoping to read it a bit of a quicker speed than this one. I have a couple of long train journeys coming up and there’s really only one way to entertain myself – read a good book.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Elephants Can Remember, Agatha Christie

For some reason I read the title of this book as Elephants Can’t Remember so I was confused for quite some time before it dawned on me. Anyway the reason why that is important is that this is about a murder/suicide that happened a long time in the past. It takes both Poirot and Ariadne Oliver going around asking people what they remembered from a particular time.

I liked Ariadne Oliver, who is a crime writer, better in this book than I have in other ones. I much prefer Hastings but she did alright in this one. I’m guessing that she is meant to be a bit like Agatha Christie from a couple of things she says about not liking the detective she has created in her novels.

So the problem that they are trying to solve is what happened to General Ravenscroft and his wife. They were both found dead with a revolver between them that had both their finger prints on it. So who killed who? Was it double suicide or murder/suicide? Because it happened such long time the pair have to deal with some fairly old witnesses, who thankfully remember things that help them work it out. These witnesses are referred to as the elephants and there are four of them. Two of them were working in the Ravenscroft household at one time.

The reason this whole thing comes up is that Ariadne Oliver is the godmother of the Ravenscroft’s child, Celia. Celia is engaged to Desmond Burton-Cox and it is Desmond’s mother who wants to know what happened to Celia’s parents. Mrs Burton-Cox is one of those characters you’re not supposed to like, and Poirot finds out what is really behind her not wanting her son to marry Celia.

I liked the book but it’s not as good as other novels by Agatha Christie. From what I can tell it was one of the last novels that she wrote and maybe that’s why it doesn’t have the same kind of punch that the others did. I think it had mixed reviews when it first came out as well.

If you’ve never read a novel by Agatha Christie or one of the Poirot stories this might not be the place to start. There are definitely better places. But if you love the characters then it’s a good one to pick up. I’m sad that Captain Hastings doesn’t make it but I know he is in Final Curtain so that kind of makes it alright. Also might have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t got myself confused by the title! I suppose it would have been a very different book if the elephants couldn’t remember what had happened!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Sofa Spotlight - A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D A Carson

This was a book that I never wanted to read because the cover was so naff and I didn’t understand the title. I know that you shouldn’t judge a book by a cover, but we all do it. Particularly now when there are so many good covers out there for books. So there really is no excuse for bad covers. But once I looked into it and worked out what it was about I discovered that it was a book well worth reading.

First of all it is about prayer. Which was on the cover – I just didn’t look hard enough to see it when I glanced at it, so me missing out on this book for so long was my own fault. Carson goes through some of Paul’s prayers in his letters to see what how Paul prayed and the kind of things that he prayed for and about. Each chapter is about a different one of the prayers or a different aspect of them and how we can use them to shape our own prayer lives.

This quickly became one of the few books that I’ve underlined parts of. I have a strong aversion to writing in books so it’s rare that I do, but in this case I did because I want to revisit it in the future and build on what I’ve learnt this time around. I didn’t break the rule enough to write notes though – I’m not a big note taker.

I would recommend this book if prayer is something that you struggle with. It’s one of the things I hate the most and part of the reason for that is not knowing where to start. This book not only helps you find that start but it also helps you to build the framework for building a prayer life. Even if you do know what you’re doing when it comes to prayer I would still recommend it because there’s always something you can learn from Paul’s letters.

Having never read anything by Don Carson before I think I’ve found another writer that I like. He’s very readable and in no way do you end up feeling like he’s setting the bar too high when it comes to prayer.

So my advice is don’t be put off by the cover and give it a read. Take your time with it and get the most out of it. And if you don’t write in books either, be brave, take up a pen (or a pencil if the permanency of ink is too much for you) and underline something. Or just make notes in a notebook – that works too. Either make sure you read this. And if you find a version with a  better cover let me know.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Eldorado, Baroness Orczy

Chronologically there are four books between this one and I Will Repay. I don’t intend to read them anytime soon but I have managed to find one of them, Lord Tony’s Wife. It’s finding them that is the problem because there are only a few of them that seem to be available. The rest I’ve been searching for in second hand bookshops.

This one was written in 1913 and features the Scarlet Pimpernel launch an attempt to rescue the Dauphin who is still a child and being brought up to hate his parents. Along with him to Paris he brings Marguerite’s brother Armand, and gives him strict instructions not to talk to anyone he knows. Not only does Armand not listen to this he also falls in love with someone and is so infatuated that he betrays the Pimpernel.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met a more infuriating character than Armand. Not only do you end up marvelling at how the Pimpernel will extract himself from what seems to be an inescapable situation, but also that he doesn’t murder Armand at the first opportunity. But the Scarlet Pimpernel is a noble chap.

There’s a couple of characters in this that I hadn’t met previously, Heron and De Batz. De Batz is half good, half bad. He too wants to rescue the Dauphin but he doesn’t like the Scarlet Pimpernel and is really the one behind the betrayal. Chauvelin is in this though and you have to love Chauvelin. He is an awful villain – suffering a bit because of how many times the Scarlet Pimpernel has outwitted him and in need of capturing him in order to get back into favour. As always the Scarlet Pimpernel makes the most of mocking him in his true English style.

Marguerite is also back, and you get to see how her relationship with Sir Percy has developed, which I felt was missing in I Will Repay. There’s so much stuff going on with the characters though that the rescue of the Dauphin takes a back seat in terms of narrative and by the end of the book I’m not sure I was invested in whether or not he was rescued. I was completely absorbed in working out if the Scarlet Pimpernel would make it out alive.

You could happily read this as a standalone novel. But I would recommend venturing into the whole series. Like I say that will involve tracking down some second hand copies here and there but I think that can only add to the reading experience. These are not hard to read stories. The plot drives them on at a fast pace so it’s not something you will get bogged down in.  

Monday, 5 February 2018

Sofa Spotlight - 23 Days in July, John Wilcockson

I wanted to read this book for a couple of reasons. The shortest is that it is about the 2004 Tour de France and, as I didn’t really start watching the Tour until 2010, I thought it would be fun to read about one of the races that I didn’t see.

My second reason is that it was the year that Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour de France and so it was written before all the hype around when he admitted to doping so he didn’t actually win those races. If you check out the Wikipedia articles for the Tour de France races that Armstrong won you see his name scratched out.

Even though it’s been nearly six years since Armstrong confessed to cheating there’s still a lot of stuff in the news surrounding the sport about doping. I’m not sure what I believe when it comes to what is reported. Last year it was Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Cyclists I both like, so there is a big part of me that is hoping that it was all innocent. But I think the problem is no one knows what to believe anymore. When I watch it I want to believe that what I am seeing is real but I don’t think there’s any way of knowing and I hope that one day that gets cleared up.

But in this book none of that is being talked about because it just hadn’t happened yet. The Festina affair had happened but that was in 1998. And there is some mention of the allegations being made against Armstrong. On the whole though there wasn’t as much talk about it as there is now.

Each chapter of the book takes you through a different stage of the Tour and its events and post- race analysis. For me it was as exciting as watching the race on TV. The pace of the book was just as fast and dramatic. I think even if you don’t know the cycling world you would enjoy this book because there’s enough information given to give you the picture but not so much that it becomes dull. And if you love the sport and reading then this is the perfect combination.

Up against Armstrong are Jan Ullrich from Germany and also Tyler Hamilton from the USA, who sadly crashes out. Neither of them are names that I recognise but it was fun trying to spot riders that are still in the sport, or were in it when I started following it.

What comes across is how tough a race it is. I don’t think you have to be a cyclist to feel a bit of the agony that the riders go through climbing the mountains. Wilcockson makes this a brilliant read and I think it’s worth reading to see what the sport was like in the Armstrong years. But if reading isn’t your thing and you don’t really know what happened with Lance Armstrong then The Programe or The Armstrong Lie are worth a watch.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

I took my time reading this. It’s worth taking it slow and letting the truths sink in. To give you some background, this book didn’t start out as a book. C. S. Lewis gave a series of talks on the BBC during the Second World War and after being turned into pamphlets or shorter books, the talks became this book in 1952.

It’s called Mere Christianity because Lewis was trying to give the basics, or common ground, of what Christianity is all about. It wasn’t his intention to describe the details of every aspect or what each denomination believes. He has an excellent way of describing it in the book, which reminds you that this is the man who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia.

Maybe it’s because I loved Narnia so much that I was curious to read some of Lewis’ non-fiction. All I can say is I wasn’t disappointed.

My recommendation is that you do what I did and read it with someone. What I found is that you find things of value that the other missed and so, in a sense, you get to enjoy this book twice.

For me it was towards the end of the book that I enjoyed the most. He talks about sin and why even when we ask God to help us not sin in a particular way He doesn’t seem to answer that prayer. The reason Lewis gives for this is that by not answering that prayer straight away God is teaching us to come back to Him and be dependent on Him rather than doing things in our own strength. Lewis writes it better than me but that’s roughly what he is saying. It was good for me to hear as I like to do things by myself and last year was a year of learning that I cannot be self-sufficient no matter how much I may want to be.

This is also the book of the famous mad, bad or God quote. Which I didn’t realise until I fell over it. But I was very excited to see it in its original context.

If you’ve never read C. S. Lewis I would say this is a good place to start to get to know his books. His tone is very similar to what I imagine a grandfather would sound like, I never knew either of my grandfathers so I am just guessing. But his style is engaging and gentle. One of those writers who cares for his readers and wants them to take to heart the message of Christianity.

For me I will be looking at reading more of his non-fiction, but I also want to attempt to read his sci-fi novels and maybe revisit The Chronicles of Narnia, not to mention The Screwtape Letters, which I heard he didn’t enjoy writing all that much. I love C. S. Lewis and I’m glad that I found this book, even though I did sort of need someone else to convince me to read it.