Beltane by Alys West

Alex Beltane ebook coverI was supposed to be writing this weekend, but I’ve been laid low with a chest infection and I’m feeling pretty wrung out with constant coughing and aches and pains. Abandoning all hopes of typing anything worthwhile, I decided to read instead. I thought I’d manage a few chapters and selected Beltane, the debut novel of Alys West. It’s set in Glastonbury, a town I adore, so the idea of it intrigued me from the start. Hours later, I turned off my Kindle, having finished the novel. It was so compelling that I couldn’t stop reading, and even felt bound to write a review, despite the concrete block on my chest! Yes, it was that good. There is, quite simply, nothing I didn’t like about this book.

From the very first page the reader is hurled into the story, with a shocking scene that really sets the tone for the whole book. A story of druidry, earth magic, paganism, witchcraft and spellworking, the plotline grips and enthrals, keeping you turning the pages, desperate to know what happens next. There are strong echoes of an almost-forgotten past, lost in a mist of mythology and legend, which isn’t surprising, given that the novel is set in modern day Glastonbury, a place where past and present collide and give the town a timeless aura.

Having visited Glastonbury on several occasions, and falling totally in love with the place, I could really picture the scene in my mind, but even those who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the town in real life will be able to imagine it, with the help of the author’s beautifully written descriptions. The peace and majesty of the ruined abbey, the vibrant cafes and bustling streets, and the awe-inspiring and somewhat unsettling Tor are all brought to life within the pages of Beltane.

Strong plot, great setting and also fabulous characterisation – this book has it all. I adored Finn. What a hero he is, and it’s difficult not to fall for him. So difficult I didn’t bother trying! Zoe is a lovely heroine, and she shows a realistic and totally understandable bewilderment as the “normal” world she has always known tilts on its axis, and she struggles to believe in what she is seeing and hearing. The romance between the two of them is wonderful, and they certainly face a lot of unusual obstacles! Winston is intriguing, and I definitely want to know more about him. Since this is book one in the Spellworker Chronicles, I’m hoping we get to find out more about him and the work that he and Finn are involved in.

Beltane is a truly fabulous novel. It grabs you by the hand from the first paragraph and doesn’t let go, forcing you to run with it through menacing nightmares, evil magic, betrayals, terror, mystery, and tension, until finally it pulls you to a halt in a circle of standing stones and leaves you to face the final confrontation alongside Finn and his evil nemesis.

I loved this book and I would heartily recommend it. I really can’t wait to read the next novel in the series, so I hope I won’t be waiting too long. 5/5

You can buy Beltane here

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

I swear, I didn’t buy this book because of the recent television adaptation. I did, however, finally get round to reading it because of the recent television adaptation. I also swear that I didn’t watch it on television because Aidan Turner was in it. I would have watched it anyway. The addition of Mr T (and his towel) was a happy coincidence.

Right, so now that’s out of the way, what did I think of the actual book? I’m an avid fan of the Marple series on television, and I adore David Suchet as Poirot. Any Christie film is more or less guaranteed to enthral me. I watched the recent Tommy and Tuppence series, having never read any books featuring this crime fighting duo, and I quite liked them. They weren’t as good as Poirot or Marple, but they were okay.

Normally, I’m the sort of person who will tell everyone to read the book if they’ve enjoyed a film or television programme. It’s not often I think the book inferior to the adaptation. The strange thing about Agatha Christie is that, I actually prefer to see her work on the screen. I used to own the complete Miss Marple collection (until a charity shop accident, when all my favourite books were taken to Oxfam by mistake and I was left with the huge box containing the ones I’d wanted to give away – but we don’t talk about that *sob*). Anyway, I really liked the books, but they weren’t quite as exciting as the programme.

I remember watching Peter Ustinov in Murder on the Orient Express. Strange choice of actor for Poirot, really, but nevertheless, I loved the film. I also loved the David Suchet version. When I finally got round to buying the book, I was sooo disappointed. It felt flat, dull, lifeless. Maybe that’s appropriate for a book about murder? Anyway, I didn’t enjoy it.

So I finally, having been enthralled by And Then There Were None over Christmas, picked up my copy of the book and began. It’s quite short and very easy to read. However, I have to say, I think I enjoyed it a lot more because I could visualise the characters in my head from the programme. I don’t think Agatha Christie does characterisation very well. We don’t really get any insight into them, and they come across more as plot devices than actual fully-rounded people. Seeing them come to life on screen makes them much more interesting.

Having said that, the plot is first class. Agatha Christie is a master at her game. No one can match her. She really knows how to come up with amazing stories, with twists and turns and red herrings galore. And Then There Were None is probably her best. I remember watching an old black and white film version of the story years and years ago, when I was a child, and it had terrified the life out of me. I remember, even then, wondering what sort of a twisted mind could come up with that solution.

The setting is fantastic. An island off the Devon coast, cut off from the mainland due to bad weather. There is just one single house is on that island, and a group of people, who do not know each other, have all been invited to stay there by the mysterious U N Owen. The island soon becomes a prison, as one by one, the guests are murdered. As it becomes clear that there is no one else on the island, and that one of them is the murderer, the sense of fear and claustrophobia is palpable. They are trapped. They trust no one. They become paranoid and terrified.

With every one of them accused of heinous crimes,  each of them must face their pasts, and acknowledge their guilt. Someone is making them pay, but if they are all killers, who is it that is acting as executioner?

Christie cranks up the tension beautifully and her plotting is ingenious. I read through the book very quickly indeed, not wanting to put it down. Given that I already knew the outcome, that says something about the story! And Then There Were None is by far the best Agatha Christie novel I’ve read to date, and it’s made me want to give some of her other books a chance.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for an amazing, terrifying, superbly-plotted murder mystery. Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. And Then There Were None is the best clue as to why. 5/5

You can buy And Then There Were None here. 51O9IJ5oGOL._AA240_FMwebp_QL65_ (1)