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The Word Is Murder

When Diana Cowper is brutally murdered only six hours after planning her own funeral, ex-policeman Daniel Hawthorne is called in to advise on a case that is baffling the police. She clearly knew her attacker and let him in, but why was she killed? And did she know what was about to happen to her?

This is an unusual detective story by Anthony Horowitz; not because of the crime/investigation (it’s your usual mix of red-herrings and dead-ends followed by the dramatic revelation of the culprit), but because of the narrative style. Horowitz places himself into the narrative, writing as if this is non-fiction and he is playing Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes. And Hawthorne is quite clearly styled on Holmes: brilliant at deductions but dreadful socially, with plenty of arrogance.

The thing is, for me, the narrative style just didn’t work. It wasn’t so much having a writer as narrator that caused me issues, but the amount of name-dropping and references to real TV shows/books/celebrities. It just felt wrong for the book. Some might love it, and the crime plot worked perfectly well, but for me it just fell a little flat.

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Dracula

I love re-reading classic novels, and try to read at least one or two a year. For birthday gifts, I’ve been asking for penguin clothbound editions of some of my favourites, and Dracula by Bram Stoker, was next on my list.

Dracula is told entirely through letters and diaries and begins with Jonathan Harker visiting the mysterious Count in his castle in Transylvania. After several dangerous encounters with Dracula and his female vampires, Jonathan eventually escapes. Count Dracula, however, is already en route to London, via Whitby, where he begins to feed upon and change Lucy Westenra, who just happens to be best friends with Harker’s fiance, Mina Murray. In London, Lucy’s fiance enlists the help of a group of men to save her life, and they bring in the enigmatic Van Helsing, who seems to understand exactly what it is that is bringing Lucy so close to death. Sadly, they are too late to save Lucy, but the men embark on the quest of killing Dracula for good, which soon becomes a race against time as Mina is placed in danger.

There are parts of Dracula that I absolutely love. The descriptions of the shipwreck and arrival of Count Dracula in Whitby are particularly atmospheric. The race to save Lucy’s life and the subsequent destruction of the vampire that she becomes are also tense and fast-paced. I also really like the fact that Mina Harker is such a strong female character in a novel which could so easily be dominated by the men. Another part of the novel I love are the descriptions of the castle and Jonathan Harker’s interactions with the vampires at the start of the novel, which are tense, atmospheric and exciting. My only criticism would be that the pace drops in the second half of the novel, and is not as thrilling as the earlier events.

It took me a while to re-read, but for those familiar scenes and descriptions, it was well worth it.

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The House of Hopes and Dreams

Every year, as summer comes around, I always like to pick a few lighter reads. Stories that generally focus on romance in, let’s face it, highly improbable and unlikely scenarios. This year I decided to try a new writer, and chose The House of Hopes and Dreams by Trisha Ashley.

When Carey Revell inherits Mossby mansion from his uncle, he knows he will have to put a lot into restoring it. Having just lost his job hosting a property renovation TV show, he has plenty of time on his hands, and invites his friend Angel, the narrator for much of the story, to work with him. She creates stained-glass windows, and Mossby comes complete with a stained-glass workshop, so it is perfect for her, especially as she comes to term with losing her partner. There are family secrets and mysteries to solve, within the property, and Carey and Angel grow closer as they work together to restore Mossby to its former glory.

The story sounded interesting and I really enjoyed the first 100-or-so pages and the ending. The problem was, unfortunately, that the middle dragged on a little bit. At times there was far too much description and dialogue that really didn’t push the plot forward or contribute much to the story. Also, there was less humour than I might have expected; I didn’t find any parts of the story particularly funny, and the romance between the two main characters seemed a little rushed and could have been developed more.

An interesting idea, but for me it just didn’t seem to work.

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The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

Having read a lot of crime fiction and psychological thrillers lately, I decided it was time for a bit of a break. I’ve had children’s book The Explorer downloaded on my kindle for a while now, mainly for my own children to read, but I thought I would give it a quick read to see what I thought.

Four children (Fred, Con, Lila and Max) are stranded in the Amazon rainforest after their aeroplane crashes. They have no idea how to survive and there are no grown-ups around to help them. They improvise their way to survival, and try to find their way home. En route they come across an explorer who is grumpy and unhelpful at first, but who eventually helps them survive long enough to reach safety.

I really enjoyed reading this as I could see how children would enjoy the adventurous plot and how the characters eventually find their feet in a difficult situation. Whilst some of the events seem rather improbable (or certainly the children managing to survive as well as they do seems unrealistic) it is a fun adventure story. As someone who read lots of Enid Blyton books as a child (where children encountered all sorts of unlikely adventures), I can definitely see the appeal. A great book for kids.