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It’s been a while since my last Book Bag post (1st August!) Here are some of my book highlights from the last couple of months.

Hotel Alpha by Mark Watson

Howard York – self-made man and founder of London’s extraordinary Hotel Alpha – is one of those people who makes you feel that anything is possible. He is idolized by his blind adopted son, Chas, and Graham, the inimitable concierge, whose lives revolve around the Alpha. But when two mysterious disappearances raise questions that no one seems willing to answer, Chas and Graham must ask themselves whether Howard’s vision of the perfect hotel has been built on secrets as well as dreams . . .

I am always drawn to stories about glamorous old hotels and this one was interesting in how it span the decades from the sixties through to the early naughties. I read this book quite rapidly and enjoyed it but it isn’t one I would return to again and again. Chas’ journey and struggles to venture into the world outside of the safe confines of the hotel were especially moving. It was greatly contrasted with Graham who has the opposite inclination, growing more disconnected from his actually family as he roots himself into the hotel instead. In fact, I got quite angry at how dismissive Graham is of everything his wife says or does, it’s not that he is mean to her, it’s just that he clearly sees her as nothing more than a boring, mildly irritating part of his life.

 That aside, there is a great story here and I love the exploration of truth and myths that surround larger than life characters like Howard York. The book has an interesting feature where you can access a website to read more short stories based around Hotel Alpha. I haven’t checked it out yet but it does sound intriguing.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

‘Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is summoned to attend the funeral Mrs Alice Drablow, the house’s sole inhabitant of Eel Marsh House, unaware of the tragic secrets which lie hidden behind the shuttered windows. The house stands at the end of a causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but it is not until he glimpses a wasted young woman, dressed all in black, at the funeral, that a creeping sense of unease begins to take hold, a feeling deepened by the reluctance of the locals to talk of the woman in black – and her terrible purpose.’

 October is the month for ghost stories and this is a classic. You have a spooky isolated house, wanderings in the night, creepy back story, frightened villagers and brave dogs in jeopardy. In scary movies I always find myself getting a little bit bored during the obligatory wandering down corridors in the night segment but when I was reading a very similar scene in this book I realised how tensely I was holding my body; I was sat bolt upright with a tight grip on the book and barely breathing! I actually felt my whole body relax when the ordeal of the scene was over with! That has to be good writing!

I am really glad to have bought this book and could see myself returning to it again when I fancy another dose of ghostliness!

 The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.

Strike is a war veteran – wounded both physically and psychologically – and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model’s complex world, the darker things get – and the closer he gets to terrible danger . . .

I don’t know what took me so long to pick up The Cuckoo’s Calling and give it a go. I love the Harry Potter books and especially appreciated how JK Rowling interwove mysteries and clues into each installment. It should really be no surprise that she is extremely adept at detective stories. And this is an exceptionally good detective story. I was glued to this for a good five days, reading it late into the night and risking lateness in the morning to squeeze in another couple of pages!

Once I finished it, I lent it to a friend which is another good sign. Now I have to get on with catching up with the series!

Creature of Havoc by Steve Jackson

Evil is festering in Trolltooth Pass. The Necromancer Zharradan Marr is close to stealing the secrets of Elven magic, which will make him invincible. But what does the Creature of Havoc know or care about all this? Who controls this foul beast? In this adventure, the Creature of Havoc is you.

And now for something completely different. When I was around 13 I had four of these fantasy choose your own adventure books. Do you know the type? ‘You are walking through woods at night. You hear a noise to your right. Do you go and investigate (Turn to page 39) or do you run for your life (turn to page 102)?’

I really enjoyed the first three but I remember getting absolutely stuck on the Creature of Havoc. I never completed it. When I rediscovered the books in a box the other week I decided I would give it another go and this time I would finish it!

This story is unique in that your character isn’t a noble adventurer. You actually play as the titled Creature of Havoc, who awakes in a dungeon maze with no memories of how you got there. Over the course of the book you gradually gain wisdom and uncover the mystery of your past, or if you make poor decisions like me, you die in a number of inventive ways!

Creature of Havoc was just as difficult as I remembered and it was only through detailed mapping, charts, notes and in the end a bit of internet cheating that I eventually made it through to the end. Rob was very amused by intricate charts! Here is how one chart looked when I was about half way through:

It took hours but I did eventually finish! Then Rob’s bought me another book in the series for my Birthday…and I started it last weekend. I just couldn’t help myself!

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