The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

As you might have realised from my review of Sherlock’s memoirs, there was a period in time when I was struggling to sleep. It was as it reached about a week before I was due to return to work after my surgery and then magically stopped being an issue the very night I decided to quit. At least I can be grateful that a week filled with anxiety and unhappiness led to me having a chance to get a fair whack of reading done.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, the fourth book in the Sherlock Holmes series, is the first one of the books that I had not previously opened up and started reading which made it a little more exciting for me as it meant I knew there wouldn’t be that moment where some deep part of my mind was telling me what would happen next. Any assumptions or conclusions I was coming to would be based on nothing more than my own interpretation of events and that certainly made it feel like there was an increased number of twists, turns and reveals throughout this standalone mystery.

Book cover copyright belongs to Penguin

Of all the mysteries that Watson has decided to enlighten us with this comes across as the darkest by far. The level of calculation that goes into causing terror amongst the suspected victim and all those living around the area is astounding and the deception that goes with it is of mastery level that unless, like Watson and Holmes, you are looking for it could very easily miss. At the end of it all, even though the reasons behind the mystery are solved, there are still a few questions left unanswered which can cause a little frustration but I found that it allowed myself as the reader to flesh out the ending in a way that suited me both (a welcome relief after the calculated attempts at murder described at the end of this recollection).

Hearing about the death of the previous occupant of the family home, and many of those that came before him, and how it meant that there would be another person coming along to potentially face the same fate is naturally of interest to Holmes when the butler turns up at his door asking for assistance. Usually, when the adventure is based somewhere out of London the next thing we know is that Holmes and Watson are meeting at the train station to head out to solve it all, but in this case it starts that very evening and the following day in the capital city before venturing to the countryside.

This use of multiple locations, a wider number of characters and having several subplots within the mystery (as well as some distractions from the real plot) really helps to bring the Holmes and Watson connection together and seems to make Conan Doyle come across as a stronger writer than he had previously managed. There is also a feeling, with Watson looking back on his notes with fondness, that there is a little more care and passion being put into the retelling of the story as it wants to appear like Watson is romanticising the past and his times with the world famous detective to do him justice against his big ‘failure’ that was previously announced to the world.

I found The Sign Of Four, another of his other standalone books, to be very poorly written and lacking in enhancing description in comparison to The Hound Of The Baskervilles and if somebody didn’t want to read through books in order I would suggest that they choose this over that. This book has encouraged me to carry on reading my way through the series and I look forward to discovering how Conan Doyle continues to tackle this slight shift in relationship between the two.

The Great Penguin Bookchase Boardgame

Until procrastination on instagram led me to watching Jen Campbell‘s story one day, I had no knowledge of the existence of The Great Penguin Bookchase game. But the minute I saw it there was an impression of it on my mind that resulted in me scouring the internet to find a copy of it.

Unlike Jen’s friend that was lucky enough to find this copy in a charity shop, almost certainly not having to part with more than a £10 note for it, I had to settle for getting change from £20 (including P&P) but managed to snag a copy that had never been opened or played; all the little book cover stickers needed to be attached to the plastic tokens and the cards needed a good shuffle to help them not be crisply freshly stuck together. The great thing about being able to do the stickers meant I was able to create my own personal bookcase as they give you more stickers than tokens and each sticker is a different book cover from a variety of Penguin categories.

Various book covers for each category colour

At a glance the game looks a little bit like Trivial Pursuit but the rules are so much better, it’s more fun and you can complete this game pretty quickly. There’s also an easy and harder version, ways to make it more accessible for younger players and a number of cards, a bit like chance cards in Monopoly, that can see somebody’s bad luck crashing on their knowledge dominance parade.

A harder version of the game means that if you land on a category you already have you have to answer another question and if you get it wrong then the book you proudly claimed moments ago is back off your bookcase. The questions themselves are generally multiple choice but you could just ask the questions and give no options to add another level of complexity to it. Easier versions for under 18’s include them being able to use a card at the library that allows them to pick up two books rather than one. This flexibility, even for different players within the same game, makes this really flexible and inviting for a family instead of something like Trivial Pursuit where younger people are generally at a pretty hefty disadvantage unless they have the junior cards and it is a very up to date version.

Tiny books with book covers

Having a number of books through the book covers mentioned also makes me want to read the books that are mentioned on the board, simply to save that I have, but I can see how this could also open people up to reading other books of a category that they particularly enjoy. As a lot of the books are older/more classical books I cannot imagine this particularly being a way to inspire younger people to pick up more books as they are usually quite daunting to look at but if they find themselves getting a number of answers right they could become inspired to read more in the hopes of betting Grandma at the next family get together.

This is just a really fun game to play, as a book reader and lover, and it is one of the few knowledge based games where my partner and I are pretty level with (I know things he doesn’t and vice versa with the occasional overlap). It certainly wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea but it makes for a great evening game or a way to spend some time on a rainy weekend afternoon. If you happen to spot it in a charity shop, at a car boot or for a good price online and you love books then this is something that I would certainly recommend!

The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Whenever I have struggled to sleep recently I have found myself in the lounge pondering if I want to carry on reading a current book or start a new one. Quite often I end up wanting an easy read and something that I know that is going to be enjoyable enough to go through so the Sherlock Holmes ends up coming out but of course once it is started and the sleepy waves come over me it ends up becoming another book to jumble as an ongoing read.

But where this is a series of short and novella length stories they are super quick to be able to go through and it’s possible to read about one dramatic mystery that needs solving before reading another book. For me switching between books is something that I usually tend to avoid but when each ‘chapter’ of something like The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is an individual story it actually makes it better to switch in and out to appreciate each mystery without them blending together.

Book cover copyright belongs to Penguin

This book was originally expected to be one of the final adventures of Sherlock Holmes but when they were originally published in print each week and readers found out that they would be coming to an end they were bitterly disappointed and begged for Holmes to make a return in their lives. Eventually more stories and events follow and they come together to create enough to make another four books in the series but there is certainly a shift in Conan Doyle’s style after this book. Knowing how this book ends and the way that Holmes is essentially written off by the author is extraordinary and I can see why it would leave readers of the time in such complete disbelief given this was essentially their equivalent to Eastenders or some other soap opera.

There is a part of this book though that starts to grind on my gears a little bit. The way that other mysteries are mentioned in passing but always referenced in a way of them not being able to be discussed because of them being such a key part of national or international security risks is such a cop out. These stories are always regarding a royal family or something similar and it becomes much more obvious that Conan Doyle just cannot figure out how to do the story in a way that doesn’t cause offence or make a mockery of a certain group. Of course, having these stories mentioned gave room for Conan Doyle to return to them in the future but they actually opened up the world and as a result a lot of wannabe Conan Doyle’s have aimed to recreate the style by expanding on these stories (most not done very well) in book form as well as games companies trying to enter the universe with PC games getting the player to act as the famous detective.

Otherwise this book continues to impress me as much as the rest of the series has done so far. It is always a pleasure to read them and this is an example of how fiction can stand the test of time and still be relatable and captivating to a modern day audience though naturally it being such a well known character some of the mystery and shock is lost along the way.

Why I Am Over Bath Bombs

This is a post that I never imagined I would end up writing. For several years I loved bath bombs for the added scent, colour and feel that they add to a bath but on recent reflection my opinions have changed on bath bombs, bubble bars and bubble bath and I thought I would share why.

Firstly, I still absolutely love baths. Baths help my muscles to relax and I use them as an opportunity to reflect on any thoughts bouncing around my head and just as a chance to reset my mind. And whilst my thoughts have changed on bath bombs I still love using bubble bath; it acts as an insulator to keep the water warm for longer, it adds a scent to the bath and certain ones provide that moisturising element to the skin. Bubble bath does the same thing as a bath bomb, which I have always acknowledged to be the case, but it is so much cheaper and easier to store as well as cruelty free/vegan being increasingly available from the high street.

For a long time I hadn’t really considered just how much scent can be loaded into a bubble bath liquid. In my head The Comforter bubble bar was the bees knees in terms of creating bubbles and scent but after reflection and having to break it up into a sieve under running water to get maximum bubbles from it. Personally, I also found that the scent kick and lasting scent throw of something like The Comforter wasn’t that great and halfway into my bath the scent would completely disappear but traditional liquid bubble baths never tend to leave me disappointed that way.

It’s easier to match a liquid bubble bath scent to a candle as well as you are able to take the lid off and get your nose stuck in properly whereas so many bath bomb fragrances are hard to detect until they land in the water and at which point you don’t want to start running around to find the perfect matching candle. And getting a good matching candle to go with the bath product really helps to enhance the experience and that is something that is important to me given the role baths play in my relaxation and mindfulness routines.

Also, the price of bath bombs always blows my mind because even the ones on the cheaper end of the scale are pretty expensive. Let’s talk about Lush and Bomb Cosmetics products, I usually buy them in sales so they are better value compared to what they usually retail for, you’ve suddenly gone from a pretty cheap evening treat to spending £££’s on something that lasts for an hour and then gets washed down the plughole. As for the people that make bath bomb cocktails and use two or sometimes even three in one hour long bath? Like please distribute your wealth.

I reached a stage where I was cutting bath bombs in half because even when they were full the scent just wasn’t that long lasting, the colour of the water was often overwhelming from a full product and I just felt so incredibly guilty about using an entire one. But I reached a point where cutting them in half became hassle and I just wanted to get the ones I had in my bathroom cupboard used up and when it reaches a point of not enjoying using a product it doesn’t make sense to drag their life out.

Then there is the colour and glitter issues of a bath bomb. The colours of them may look great in the solid form but when they hit the water it can just go horribly wrong. I don’t want to be sitting in water that looks like it’s mud or that a murder has been committed so the pale ones are great and that is one of the reasons I started to cut them in half as it helped to tone down the vibrancy a little. But also the amount of glitter in some of these products just ends up leaving my skin feeling a little bit itchy and then the next day you’re looking at your arm and realise just how sparkly you have become. If I want glitter then I want to do it by using a product that I know has glitter in it rather than an inner layer shouting surprise!

Moving on from bath bombs seems a bit like an end of an era but I think that it is simply time for me to move on from them. Am I against them to the point where if they came into my life I wouldn’t use them? Of course not! But I just don’t want to be putting my money into them or using them anywhere near as regularly as I had been. There are other things that I want to buy, use and experience instead of bath bombs, things that will leave a longer impression or have a bigger impact on my life, and given they are not things that I have recently been enjoying it seems silly to just carry on purchasing and using them for the sake of a pretty photo to post on social media.

What products do you use in your bath? Do you have a favourite bath bomb? Do you do anything to make your bath products last longer or make the experience more enjoyable? Let me know in the comments below!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This book took me a number of weeks, maybe even months, to get through. Unfortunately this book was an incredible drag, despite the plot having so much potential, because the writing style stopped a reader from being able to dive in properly.

Finding out that Kate wants to enter a deadly race on the beach of Thisby, not only as the first woman but also on a traditional horse instead of a water horse, sounds like a book that will have such a strong women plot filled with danger, action and a transition from a woman struggling to find a way to be involved in such a key part of the island to opening it up and bringing it into the modern day but it turned out to be nothing like that.

Instead Kate ends up relying on a successful racer, Sean, to be able to train and learn various tips and tricks along the way. She becomes more concerned about them doing it together, about them forming a relationship and him alone respecting her rather than her having the feisty approach that was obvious at the beginning. it saddens me that the chance of a strong female lead doesn’t come to the fore in a teen/young adult book when it looked so obvious to become exactly that.

Book cover copyright belongs to Scholastic UK

It is split between two characters perspectives both of whom become increasingly connected and invested in the other person’s need to win The Scorpio Races. There was no consistency between where the story switched to being a certain perspective with some chapters being from both main viewpoints and others having several chapters in a row from the same perspective. But the way the characters and their personal language is developed throughout the book just feels very stereotypical and uninspiring as whilst there is a little background and enhancement it is generally lacking.

The description of these races and the weird water horses was something I really struggled to understand because there could have been so much more elaboration, on the creatures especially, and the description that was present wasn’t done in a way to allow the reader to enhance upon it. Given this book is categorised as a teen/young adult the lack of character development, other than is becoming a love story when it could be a really intriguing action packed plot, and a lacking of description or use of language in a way that provides clarity for a reader to be able to fill in the pieces and flesh out the imagery being provided.

I stuck with the book purely on the basis that I really strongly believed that the plot could come to life and that there was potential for a really captivating ending but each time it started to rev up it just came crashing down in the most boring and predictable way. It felt like the author had a brilliant concept but, much like when I imagine a piece of artwork in my head and try to put pencil to paper, that it just couldn’t be put together and executed in the right way.

It just wasn’t worth it and it became such a drag that it made me want to shy away from reading again so I had to step away from it and just go back to it every now and then between better books. The Scorpio Races came from the charity shop and it is already straight back in the ‘give to charity’ stack.

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Morden Hall Park

Fresh air, open spaces and greenery really makes my heart sing and especially when the sun is shining, the skies are blue and there is a breeze casually gliding around. It’s a careful balance though as going to an open space on such a clear skied day can quickly become a sticky nightmare.

Luckily Morden Hall Park has enough trees, benches and buildings to retreat to and escape the glaring sun whilst the small body of water also helps to create a gentle breeze. A few Sunday’s ago we got a tram to Phipp’s Bridge and headed into the park. The temperature was just right to allow for people to be able to sit on the grass and sunbath, with kids running around playing games and football, without passing out or risking becoming sunburned in the space of minutes.

Not only are the grounds beautiful and extremely peaceful to walk around in, as well as being well maintained and having information points and signs thanks to the National Trust, it also has a number of buildings to explore. As well as a few spots with historical interest there is also a garden centre, a couple of cafes and much to my joy a pretty great secondhand bookshop (though make sure you have cash on hand as this is an old school bookshop where the lady just has one of those little cash boxes and a tally of sales).

When living in a built up area of Croydon and having such easy access to Central London it is very easy to forget that we have so many parks, lakes and woods just a bus or tram journey away. After our walk around here I created a list of other super accessible places that it would be great to explore and it serves as a good compromise for somebody like myself, that grew up in the countryside and has a huge love for the greenery, that lives in a built up place but still desires the feel of escapism.

It is certainly the place I am likely to return to again, especially as it costs just £1.50 each way thanks to its location right next to the tram stop, to do some more exploring and perhaps to take a book and sit there in peace. When I start my new job and have worked my way through some of my To Be Read stack I will also be going along with an empty bag or two and digging through those bookshelves for some incredible modern and classic fiction books.

Greenery with a footpath

Tamed but natural gardens

Field with a bare tree

Heavy foliage and nature

River separates the green

Have you got a favourite local open space? Are you more into open fields, woods or carefully pruned gardens? I’d love to find out more about your nature interests in the comments below.

 

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

When teenager Maryanne Doyle disappears in 1998 it becomes impossible for Cat Kinsella to look at her dad in the same way. She knows he lied to the police about knowing Maryanne and that he never mentioned the encounter to her mother but did that make him a kidnapper or murderer?

Cat never had any proof but when a body of a woman going under the name of Alice turns up just a stones throw away from the pub her Dad is currently running, and she is involved in the investigation, she fears her family secrets will come pouring out and she will have to confront the truth. It’s a truth that unravels in front of the readers very eyes in Caz Frear’s Sweet Little Lies.

Copyright of book cover belongs to Bonnier Zaffre

But then something throws Cat and the whole investigation off track. Alice turned up on Brighton beach in the early 2000’s and ended up marrying a guy and trying desperately to have a child via IVF. But Alice was a made up name and her body had previously carried a child. But how did she end up in Brighton, what or who was she running from and who really was she? The police department don’t know how to react, Cat doesn’t know who to turn to and the Kinsella family becomes increasingly strained.

Throughout the entire book Cat is battling with a work assigned therapist to help her get over being involved in a murder case, she’s drinking and smoking weed to get through her time off shift, her sister is disgusted by her behaviour and her brother suddenly reappears in their dad’s pub. It’s nearly Christmas and it looks like there is no chance of the investigation getting solved any time soon but Cat has promised to attend the family dinner and it results in an explosive dinner time with relationships reaching breaking point.

Cat becomes increasingly convinced that it had to be her Dad that was going around kidnapping and/or murdering people but what the police investigation discovers that Christmas and New Years is a much deeper and darker story than anybody could have imagined when the body of a woman mysteriously turned up one cold morning in a residential area of London.

It really felt throughout the book that I was going on the entire journey with Cat and experiencing all the emotions and conflicting emotions with her; the moments of sadness at discovering a dead body, the moments of anger as she recalls the past, the moments of uncertainty and desire as she finds herself falling in love with a suspect and so much more.

The twists, turns and shocks were constantly appearing, in such subtle ways, but they were weaved into the story in a believable and enjoyable way. Whilst the story is a shocking one, a real on the edge of your seat thriller, it is one that you could easily image being a real life situation that the London police departments might have to deal with and especially when a much wanted criminal is thrown into the mix as well as it heightens the senses of the story to being much more than just a whodunnit and romance novel to a nightmare of a crime ring past.

It certainly isn’t the sort of book that would suit everybody, it could prove to be too much of a nail-biter for some, but for the people that are into modern day thrillers with realistic locations, believable family tensions and hidden secrets that are waiting to come out in the form of gang violence and murder this is a real gem of a book. You can see why this book has gone on to become an international bestseller and is still very much promoted by the publisher Bonnier Zaffre.

If you have read this book I would love to find out your thoughts in the comments below! Remember you can follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m currently reading.