Daisy on the Outer Line – Ross Sayers, Book Review
Daisy is a 19 year old Strathclyde Uni student who works in Boots. She has a steadily increasing alcohol problem and drives away anyone who cares for her before they can reject her. Her stepdad has just died, and Daisy has rampaged her way through his purvey (a post funeral reception), because if everyone’s going to expect the worst of her then she can’t let them down can she? And she never even knew him anyway so what’s the big deal?
Daisy, Oh Daisy, what are we going to do with you? Stick you on a mysterious, after hours train on the Outer Line of the Glasgow Underground and send you back in time to act as a witness to your own follies is what.
At her darkest moment, Daisy is taken under the wing of her very own Clarence-like angel – Yotta and sent rattling back 16 days. Her mission? To undo some unknown wrong, and under no circumstances be seen by her past self. But with no money, nowhere to stay and no idea what she’s doing, can Daisy overcome her own fuckwittery and find her way home?
Daisy on the Outer Line has been lined up as one of my must reads for 2020 since last November – I’ve been raving about it since I heard it was coming out for one simple reason – Ross Sayers makes me laugh. Hard. More than that, his writing is infused with kindness and takes complex imperfect characters and drills them into your heart.
His previous book Sonny and Me is still one of my “you HAVE to read this” recommendations (though that is less philosophical and more out right laugh out loud), so when I heard he was taking my favourite trope – time travel – and running with it I was THERE for it. Do I regret my anticipation? Not for a second. Despite months of daydreaming my ideal version of a Scots Time Travel comedy novel, Sayers has still exceeded my expectations, because I was not for a second anticipating a character like Daisy.
She is a lost, lonely teenage girl, disenfranchised and steadily disengaging with the world around her, which as anyone who was a Scottish teenager can attest too, very quickly leads to the bottom of a bottle, horrific mistakes and staring into the abyss wondering if there’s any point. Then the Glasgow underground rattles around and Daisy is given a gift. The journey of self-awareness that Yotta propels her on is funny, and emotional and eye opening, and life-affirming and it is written with Sayers’ trademark sense of cheesy humour. I laughed through the dark bits and cried through the joyful ones, and if that isn’t the sign of a belter of a book then I don’t know what is. I adored it and I adored Daisy and the final chapter made me squeal for joy at the potential for world building and spending more time with her.
Part of my love for this book may have been because it felt like coming home. Islanders from the Hebrides have a tendency to spend a lot of time in Glasgow – it’s very much viewed as our home away from home and there is a natural affinity there. In all of Sayers novels he has managed to turn his settings into characters in and of themselves – Skye, Stirling and now Glasgow are so strongly invoked that the locations are brought to life through not only the familiar sensations and locations, but the characters that inhabit them. Anyone who has spent an iota of time in Glasgow will find themselves transported back there with Daisy, and it’s going to be very hard to resist trying to catch the last train on the Outer Line next time I’m there. But this is not usually the case for me – I struggle with Peter May’s books because the familiarity is too jarring for me, despite others adoring them – so it is a testament to the writing and the quality of characters here that I never once felt jarred by following round the familiar landmarks, just excited to see what happened next.
I love this book so much, that I’m going to give away a copy as a prize, Just head over to either Instagram or Twitter (one or the other is fine) and follow the instructions by Saturday 14th at 8pm (GMT) and you could win a copy of one of the best Scottish novels of the year.
I don’t know what happened this month. I feel like I must have walked into a timewarp at some point, but I keep checking my list and it IS accurate. Somehow or other I managed to read 21 books (Hands up this is a total humble brag, but I AM genuinely shocked). Given I read FOUR last month and thought that was good going I actually don’t know how I managed this. The only thing I can think is that SO MANY of them were just fantastic that I just couldn’t stop. Anyway, apologies for the length of this – it won’t happen again. Honestly, if you make it through this more power to you! (I might even send you one of the mythical Orange Twirls as a reward!)
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (5 stars)
Mia was born into privilege, and enjoyed the high life until she was 10. Content with her parents, baby brother and beloved cat (who is relevant in the story, I promise!). Then a misplaced coup results in everything being torn from her and her running for her life. 6 years later she is looking to enter the secretive and elite assassins training school to become a Blade and get justice for the wrongs done to her family by the corrupt power structures of ????. The guild is comprised of zealots who excel at what they do, but competition is fierce, and each and every one of the acolytes is a murderer already. Added to that: their training consists of surviving the masters’ multiple attempts to murder them, and this becomes Hogwarts for adults – with swearing, sex and bloody gory murder a plenty.
This book grabbed me from the first line, and I’d ordered the rest of the trilogy before I was halfway through. It’s compelling, brutal and wonderfully written. I cannot express how much I loved it. But it is absolutely definitely NOT for children or young adults. I’ve seen a lot of reviewers really struggle with this and try to fit it into that box, I’m assuming because the protagonist is a teenage girl?
The Lost Ones by Anita Frank (5 stars)
In 1917 Stella Marchem returns from nursing in the Great War, traumatised and having to come to terms with the horrific loss of her childhood sweetheart and fiancé. Steeped in a deep depression, Stella is given the mission of attending to her lonely and newly pregnant sister, Madeline, who currently lives with her mother-in-law and a handful of servants in an oppressive and chilling country manor. And so off she sets with her maid, Annie Burrows; a young girl who makes everyone around her nervous and who seems to on the knife edge of madness. But Madeline is facing more than simple loneliness; from running footsteps to sudden chills; misplaced items and sobbing in the night. Is it hormonal hysteria, or is there something more sinister at work?
Anita Frank has woven together a terrifying and nerve wracking tale which warrants becoming an instant classic of the genre. The first half ratchets up the tension unbearably; I genuinely found myself with goosebumps and nervous to go into unlit rooms, before unravelling its macabre revelations. It creates a tangibly unsettling atmosphere which, even with a satisfying ending, stays with you long after the book closes. This had me gripped from the start to the end and I’ll be recommending it to everyone for some time to come.
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd (5 stars)
So having 4 5 star reviews in one month makes it look like I hand them out Willy Nilly, but I promise I don’t! I just read a lot of good stuff this month! But also somehow or other I’ve read 3 mermaid or “people of the sea” stories this year. It’s not a genre I specifically seek out, but I guess coincidences happen. After the first two: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock and Pisces, I decided that maybe I just didn’t like mermaid stories, cause I HATED those two. (To be fair they both contained some pretty atrocious sex scenes and a lot of very unlikeable characters.) Then along came Things in Jars to prove me wrong.
Bridie Devine is a Victorian era detective, interested in figuring out how things work and
helping people that most would overlook. Having risen from an Irish Street rat to a doctor’s apprentice and now an independent woman who advocates for the less privileged, Bridie’s reputation is still recovering from her last case. Which is why a Baron with something…fishy to hide feels confident that she’ll keep his case confidential. So Bridie and her 7 foot tall ferocious maid, Cora get drafted in to find Christabel Berwick; a missing child that no one was supposed to know even existed, and who has a little something of Kirstin Dunst’s “butter wouldn’t melt/oh so vicious” character from Interview with a Vampire about her. Oh and Bridie absolutely doesn’t believe in anything inexplainable or supernatural. She DEFINITELY doesn’t believe in ghosts, and definitely isn’t developing feelings for the really handsome half dressed spectre from her past who just so happens to be following her everywhere.
What Jess Kidd has produced here is a book full of warmth, heart and genuinely hilarious quirks. It’s a Victorian detective story, but with a folklore twist and loveable characters. So loveable that I found myself digging my heels in as I neared the ending (which fair warning, is inevitably bittersweet) and desperate for the ability to spend more time with Bridie and Cora. The fact that these characters aren’t in a series is a travesty and if I’m ever fortunate enough to meet Kidd I’ll be on my knees begging for more of them.
Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (4 stars)
I, along with every other millennial out there, am utterly obsessed with Fleabag. It’s captured a zeitgeist that is hard to explain. It is whip-smart, dark and oh so identifiable. So I loved reading the original version which has most of the elements of Season 1 and demonstrates one of the earlier evolutions of the show that stole everyone’s heart. This edition also collated memories of the stage show from the cast and crew.
The Institute by Stephen King (4 stars)
12 year old Luke has displayed minor skills in Telekinesis. Not even powerful to alert himself to his skills, he has been spotted by the Institute, a shady organisation in Maine who captures children with special talents and puts them to nefarious use. Meanwhile in Small town South Carolina, an ex-cop from Florida is starting a new life with the Sheriff’s department.
It’s very hard to go into the intricacies of this book without giving too much away, but as always King is a master story weaver, walking that fine line of compelling and making the unbelievable believable. If you’re a King fan I think you’ll enjoy this one. If not, start with Carrie and you will be!
Rivers of London: Black mould by Ben Aaronovitch (4 stars)
The Rivers of London book series is one of my Go To fantasy series’. Full confession, I don’t always fully understand what’s going on, particularly with whatever mystical revelation happens towards the end, and I’m totally lost from one book to the next about where things stand with Lesley May (not sure why this flummoxes me, it’s usually stated pretty clearly.) But this confusion is where I found the Graphic Novel really came into its own. Black Mould is a standalone orginal graphic novel story that sees Peter and Guleed have to fight both sentient fungus and slum landlords as Peter continues his training with The Folly, the super secret supernatural branch of the Met Police.
It’s a simple enough story, but seeing the characters and humour that I love in illustration really expanded my understanding of the series as a whole. I’ll definitely be seeking out the other graphic novels.
Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove (4 stars)
Having been approached in a coffee shop by Eve Allerthorpe, eldest daughter of a wealthy and entirely batshit crazy Yorkshire family who live in a gothic black castle in the middle of a lake, Holmes and Watson are engaged to investigate the mysterious myth of the Black Thurrick; an evil side kick to Father Christmas who likes to leave bunches of birch sticks around and snack on naughty children.
Eve’s sudden interest in the myth is, in large, thanks to some weird goings on and supernatural sightings around her creepy and not at all cosy home. Of course she’s due a substantial inheritance on her 21st birthday on Christmas Eve, on one condition; that she has managed to retain control of her mental faculties by then. But while investigating out of curiosity a far more serious crime occurs almost in front of Holmes and Watson. So has local folklore come to life or is someone trying to drive Eve mad? Who would dare try and pull the wool over Holmes and Watson’s eyes? And can the grumpiest and most eccentric family in England make it through a holiday season in one piece?
This is a highly entertaining and enjoyably ludicrous tale. Holme’s eccentricity and Watson’s sarcasm are set off perfectly by being surrounded by like-minded and similarly oddball members of the upper classes. There a moments of slapstick and exquisite arguments of the absurd where Holmes again proves his ability to always be right is pure luck, but is nothing compared to his unparalleled confidence in himself. And beneath it all the story is beautifully written and imagined. A truly enjoyable festive mystery.
Safe House by Jo Jakeman (4 stars)
Charlie Miller is a woman on the run from her past. She’s just been released from prison for perverting the course of justice, but is also having to come to terms with her own guilt and abuse at the hands of ex-boyfriend and serial killer Lee. With few ties to her old life and hankering after a new start, she flees to Cornwall, intending to keep her head down and try and acclimatise to her new freedom and self-awareness, but she’s being hunted by multiple people. Can she really just start anew?
Thrillers are brain popcorn for me, I read them as a palate cleanser; a mini puzzle where I try and figure out the twists and turns as soon as possible. Usually the foreshadowing is pretty obvious but not with Safe House. This genuinely kept me second guessing myself until the end, and even when I did just about figure it out (About a chapter and a half before the reveal, but I wasn’t certain) it still managed to throw a twist at me that I REALLY didn’t see coming. (It’s fairly minor, but I appreciated the surprise).
Charlie is a likeable character who made catastrophic mistakes.. She was a victim herself, but is having to find the balance of accepting her own vulnerabilities, complicity and abuse. There was the odd scene, particularly towards the end which felt like it was written with cinematic dreams in mind and ignore the prologue which feels much clumsier than the rest of the book, this is a well drawn, subtle character driven story with edge of the seat tension and jeopardy.
Tam O Shanter by Robert Burns, adapted by Richmond Clements (4 Stars)
From Cranachan Books comes this new vibrant Manga rendering of the classic Burns poem Tam O’Shanter. I always struggled with the depth of the Scots Language in Tam O Shanter, but this rendition really does bring it too life and is chock full of atmosphere. A good Scottish Autumnal tale for a creepy Halloween. Highly recommended.
My Name is Monster by Katie Hale (3 stars)
Monster has survived the apocalypse deep in the Arctic Seed vault, miles from home. Emerging weeks later, she must make her world through a totally changed and deserted world and find a new home, but she’s not entirely alone. In an unnamed city she discovers a child who she takes under her wing, naming her Monster and renaming herself Mother.
This is a strange slow burner of a book, showing the fears and hopes of motherhood spliced alongside a child’s need to become their own person and make their own way in the world. It is beautiful but dark.
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (3 Stars)
Two ageing Irish gangsters have staked out the Gibraltar ferry port, searching for Dilly, a daughter that hasn’t been seen in 3 years. What follows reads in part like an atmospheric one act play and in part like a painful flashback to the drug glory days of the 90s when Charlie and Maurice were making names for themselves.
It’s an interesting book that is absolutely not for everyone – it’s written very stylistically – but contains lifetimes of pain and love while two Irish fuckups try to figure out what the hell life is about. Their conversations are hilarious, but spin on a dime and turn dangerous with breathtaking speed. Their entire beings are wrought through with violence and pathos as they reflect back on the mistakes they’ve made and the hurt they’ve caused over the decades. Drugs and uncontrollable urges abound, and yet despite the fact that they have been horrible people who have committed unforgiveable crimes, Maurice and Charlie are pretty likeable; in part because they own up to their mistakes (even if it is too late), and in part because of the fondness with which Dilly views them. Safely. From a distance.
Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M Nair (3 stars)
Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer are chalk and cheese but have been friends forever. She’s chaotic and he’s Type A. But just as their friendship if falling apart they mysteriously get dragged into a manic adventure to save the multiverse.
This is the first book in a new series which relies a little too heavily on stereotypes but offers a tantalising glimpse of a promising new sci-fi/humour series. I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel when it arrives.
The Aunt who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay (3 stars)
Lyrical prose succinctly captures three very different women in a Bengali family struggling to navigate the social conventions expected of them: a young modern woman who wants nothing to do with marriage and feels she has to duck, dive and lie to retain her independence, a shrewd young bride who carefully “manages” her new husband and family towards success from a position of supposedly happy meekness (although there is burning passion present too, which eventually takes over), and a righteously furious ghost of an elderly aunt who taunts and goads her family with scathing rants, pushing them via sneering insults and death threats to achieve more than she was allowed too. A quick read but containing massive riches (and some hidden treasure).
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (3 stars)
This was a brutal read. Written as a lilting stream of consciousness from the point of view of Sylvie, an abused and brainwashed 17 year old girl on a summer “study” retreat with her psychopathic father who is obsessed with the Iron age; her institutionalised mother and an archaeological study group. Sylvie knows not to enrage her father, and knows to hide his physical abuse from prying eyes, but also takes it as normal that she is whipped black and blue based on his whims. The Horror that unfolds as her father and the professor explore their obsessions with the past and the Britishness of the Iron Age feels like sliding uncontrollably and inevitably towards a cliff edge, but the tension is built with poetical intensity.
The Guardians by John Grisham (3 stars)
John Grisham deserves his reputation as a crime writer. Normally I loathe present tense writing as it often smacks of immaturity, so my heart sank when I saw that’s what this was, but within the first few pages I was gripped as Grisham wove his typically tight, tense and compelling narrative.
The Guardians of the title are pro bono legal sharks who pursue exonerations for the wrongfully convicted, and this novel, some of which is sadly based on true cases, looks at two particularly intricate cases. The characters are interesting and sympathetic, the plot is believable yet also insane and the tension is palable . Indubitably readable.
Captain America Dark Designs by Stefan Petrucha (3 stars)
It’s 2005 and Captain America has finally gotten some semblance of a life back, but following routine tests after a mission, it’s discovered that within his body Cap carries an extinction level virus. Why it’s not currently active, and what might trigger it is anyone’s guess, but to protect humanity Rogers has to head back to the deep freeze until a cure can be found.
However, old nemesis Red Skull is back, in a body cloned from Captain America himself, so he also carries the virus, except that he has become symptomatic. Knowing the end is insight, and without the selfless gene that is sending Rogers into cryogenic sleep, Red Skull sets about fulfilling his bucket list; specifically ending Captain America, with the aid of some hidden old Nazi Tech. Can Rogers fight off giant killer Nazi robots and a psychopathic enemy with a bug that makes Ebola look like a cold all while he’s technically in quarantine?
What follows is a rollicking good adventure which explores the extremes of Steve’s moral code, and what sets him apart from other heroes. Philosophical questions are thrown into the mix like challenges which Steve side steps with ease.
The Silent House by Nell Pattison (3 stars)
Waking up to their worst nightmare, the Hunter Family discover one of their children was murdered in the night. But they are deaf and heard nothing. Paige Northwood is called in as an interpreter, but being part of the Deaf Community herself her interest quickly becomes much more personal and her investigations lead her to a dark place.
Despite the promising concept this is a pretty run of the mill thriller, with red herrings a plenty and a so so conclusion. Worth a read, but doesn’t fulfil the promise it makes.
The Extinction trials by SM Wilson (The Extinction Trials: 3 stars Exile, 2 Stars, Rebel 2 Stars)
Stormchaser Knux accidentally finds herself taking part in trials to become a finalist to go to Piloria in search of food, resources and a way of survival. Piloria, as opposed to Earthasia, Storm’s home continent which is struggling to sustain its population, is the dinosaur continent across the sea. Thus Storm and a hodge podge band of comrades and a cardboard cut-out villain find themselves shipped off to face the living fossils.
I’m not totally sure why I kept reading these, honestly I’m exhausted just writing the summary, remembering how they were executed. Maybe it’s cause I grabbed them at the Library and they were easy reads, but good grief they were not good. The blurby bit describes them as The Hunger Games meets Jurassic World. Maybe in Ambition; it’s a good summation of what the series tries to do, but absolutely not in execution. It’s one dimensional, predictable, tries to be gory and edgy but really isn’t and the exposition; oh god the exposition is endless, clumsy and repetitive. Yet I read them all. And Quickly. I’m not sure why.
Of course I’m not the target audience for these. It says 13 + (Nope) but I try and put myself in my 7 year old’s shoes and I think he’d just have got bored, especially compared to the quality of some of the stuff he’s been reading. However, given that I tore through them I don’t feel I can warn you off despite not wanting to recommend them. (Look at my expert level of fence sitting!). Make your own minds up, but good luck!
Everything you Ever Wanted By Luiza Sauma (2 stars)
Oh Boy was this a disappointment.
Stuck in an overpopulated rat race Iris is struggling with depression and feeling her life is meaningless, when she gets the opportunity to be part of a lead colony on Nyx, a new planet on the other side of the galaxy which offers a new start and open space. The catch is it’s a one way ticket. The concept had so much promise but was a massive disappointment. It raises questions about Depression and the society we’re living in. Is the grass really greener on the other side? The answer will be obvious from the start, but it felt like a mystery was set up that never really paid off, the characters were one dimensional and their motivation never particularly compelling. Definitely NOT everything that I wanted.
Pick of the Month: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
Dud of the Month: Everything you Ever Wanted by Luiza Sauma
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a phenomenal debut that was released in 2016 and promptly (and rightly) won all the awards. It is heart-rending; powerful and harrowing. It follows the stories of two branches of a family tree descended from half-sisters on the Gold Coast during the height of the slave-trade. Through twists of fate and misfortune, one half of the family ends up being sold into slavery, while the other become slavers; selling prisoners from warfare to the white men who have set up at Cape Coast Castle and reaping the power that comes with it. What follows is an unrelenting and breath-taking examination, across eight generations and 300 years, of the wounds and scars inflicted by slavery; the families torn apart and the crimes of humanity committed against entire nations.
I cannot recommend this book enough. Each character only has a chapter, and yet is drawn so fully and written so empathetically that your heart will break anew with each story. As you are pulled from some characters – never knowing their final fate as their family and children never knew, or getting fleeting glimpses and hints – only a smidgen of the horror; the unanswered questions and ruined lives is understood, but it’s enough. Enough to make this a true classic that lays bare the institutions of racism and power which were created and are still maintained today all while telling a compelling story through glorious writing. I cannot wait for Gyasi’s next book due next year.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Arden has also created a debut novel which completely bowled me over. The Bear and the Nightingale is the first in a trilogy which was completed this year (and thank God there’s two more because I can’t wait to get my hands on them!)
It tells the story of Vasya, the youngest child of Pyotr Vladimirovich, the lord of a remote Russian Village and his bewitching wife Marina Ivanovna. As Vasya grows she finds friends among the spirits and imps of the forest, and captures the attention of Morozko, the Frost Demon. Not knowing that she has the Sight, her family mistakenly try to protect her from Morozko, completely misunderstanding his intentions and underestimating Vasya’s abilities and resourcefulness.
This a hauntingly beautiful fairytale with layers upon layers of ethereal Russian folklore built in. Fairytale folk and demons vie for attention, but as always the true horrors and mistakes are committed by misguided people only faintly understanding the world around them. Vasya is a compelling heroine who loves her family deeply, but knows her own mind and I’m excited to see her grow into her powers and confidence in the sequels.
Toffee by Sarah Crossan (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)
This is marketed as a young adult book and as with all good modern young adult books it doesn’t shy away from the darkness experienced by teenagers, but does so with such humour and heart that it’s impossible not to read in a single sitting.
Written in poetry, Toffee tells the story of a young runaway who is escaping an abusive father. She comes across Marla, an elderly woman with dementia and the two form an unlikely and poignant friendship which, just maybe, saves them both. Written with a lyrical brevity there is not a single superfluous word and yet emotion drips from every page. Here are two women that society deems invisible and abusable, but in each other they find their dignity and confidence; their sense of fun and adventure and the ability to heal from past trauma. Crossan shows how vital kindness can be, the mistakes people can make as they try to find their way, and that there is always hope, even in places that initially appear unlikely.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Hallie Rubenhold has been getting a ridiculous amount of flack for this examination of the women murdered by Jack the Ripper in 1888.
In the 131 years since the five canonical victims of one of England’s most famous serial killers met their tragic demise, their deaths have been sensationalised, their lives dismissed and their murderer glorified and turned into a grizzly tourist attraction. Rubenhold’s self-proclaimed aim with The Five is to give Polly, Elizabeth, Mary Jane, Kate and Annie back their voices, their dignity and their humanity and remind people that these women were not footnotes to the Jack the Ripper myth, but women who led full and complicated lives; who were murdered as a horrific act of misogyny and who continue to be demonised by that same misogyny.
What she has created is 5 compelling tales of tragedy, desperation and survival. She takes the known facts of the women and filters them through the prism of experiences of women in Victorian Times. In doing so she creates narratives, which, yes, at times are based on guess work and gap filling, but completely achieve Rubenhold’s aims of making these women real, identifiable and sympathetic, and remind us to revel a little less in their tragedy. Critics of the book are blinkered in their furor that Rubenhold refuses to categorise the women as prostitutes. They are angrily dismissing the depth and humanity of her study and the fact that she has produced the most detailed examination of the victims to date. Ironically, by doing so, these critics go a long way to prove her point: that people are much more comfortable with the gruesome tale and its lack of closure if they can dismiss the victims as somehow “deserving” of their fate. Critics are missing the point: It doesn’t MATTER if they were prostitutes (although there does appear to be a ridiculous lack of evidence to support that they were, and the police investigation looks fatally flawed by insisting on such). First and foremost they were women, who had families and friends and deserve acknowledgement for their lives and not their deaths, as such, don’t expect any detail of their deaths, or circumspection on the identity of Jack – this isn’t about him.
An interesting read for a new perspective on a well known tale.
Horror, she Wrote by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R Anderson(⭐⭐⭐⭐)
I’ve read a lot more non-fiction this month that usual (i.e….Two) but I’ve enjoyed both. I was provided with a review copy of Horror, She Wrote in advance of it’s release on 17 September.
Sometimes these book list books can be dry, but not so this one. Written in a chatty and interesting way, Horror, She Wrote looks at the epic list of female writers of Horror, Fantasy and Weird Fiction and their continuing influence on the shaping of these genres.
Kroger and Anderson are so breathlessly excited by the wealth and breadth of horror and supernatural female writers that it’s impossible not to get caught up in their enthusiasm. As well as learning loads, my TBR pile expanded exponentially – in main thanks to the Reading List summaries after each author. I actually had to read it with a notepad next to me, to make sure I didn’t miss anything – but it never once felt like homework! This was a genre that I’ve probably explored the least, and after reading this I can’t wait to get started.
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoirby Lady Trent by Marie Brennan (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Since I started in my Library in January I’ve had my eye on this book (and may have added it to a few too many book displays!) – anything with a dragon on the front was going to get my attention.
Now Historical Fiction is not my favourite – despite the ridiculous amount I seem to have read over the last year – but I enjoyed this. Written from the point of view of Lady Trent, elderly dragon expert, who has finally sat down to write her memoirs, it’s funny, warm and reads like a good solid adventure mystery story…with added dragons. This is the first in a series and as such focuses on Lady Trent’s formative years as a rebellious tomboy yearning for more out of the life than the Victorian style (it’s not set in our universe, but has similar periods) and her first adventure abroad to see Dragons in the flesh. Lady Trent is an interesting heroine, and it’s a chatty and compelling adventure. I’ll definitely be picking up the next one in the series.
The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Merrick Tremayne is a once vivacious adventurer who, following an accident has turned into a recluse, living at home with his reviled brother in a house that is falling down around him. But one last adventure calls – a mission to a village in Peru with a family connection, a healthy dose of fantastical secrets and a friendship (not convinced it’s not true love, but it’s never explicitly stated that Tremayne and the Priest love each other) for the ages.
With plenty of supernatural mysteries and historical adventure into interior Peru this was a magical read with plenty of original ideas and just enough jeopardy to really care about the outcome.
Why Mummy doesn’t give a ****! By Gil Sims (⭐⭐⭐)
Ellen is back in the third instalment of a woman just trying to survive family life with two children, a terribly misogynistic husband and a beloved and judgemental dog called…Judgy.
In Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a ****! Ellen faces her last straw and finally leaves Simon. What follows is her first year of singledom, navigating life as a single parent to two children, finding a new balance with her ex-husband and re-discovering herself and it’s wonderful. A fun empowering exploration of the frustrations of being a family matriarch and being expected to hold everything together when you can barely remember your own name. Not challenging, but identifiable and heart-warming.
I Owe you One by Sophie Kinsella (⭐⭐⭐)
I needed some light reads this month and I have to confess I love a Sophie Kinsella book. They are uncomplicated, generally unoffensive, pretty much guaranteed a fluffy happy ending and often pretty funny and I Owe You One was another prime example.
They’re pretty forgettable, but if you’re looking for a romance story with a fairly ditzy but generally likeable middle class woman at the centre these are the ones for you. Popcorn for the brain and I’m guaranteed to read every. Single. One.
Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
This is an odd one, because for level of world building, writing style and originality this is absolutely a four if not five star book. The story itself is phenomenal as well and stays with you. But it’s hard work to access that story and that impacted seriously on my enjoyment – a bit like Lord of the Rings -it’s incredibly dense and epic.
This is a hallucinatory high concept fable of Tracker, a lone wolf who finds himself working with a bunch of mercenaries to find a lost child, and facing down witches and vampires and shapeshifters in the process. Who is the child and Who can be trusted?
At times it’s hard to tell what’s going on, which adds to the drug hazed vibe and the confusion that Tracker faces, but even when he’s figuring things out I always felt lost. It took me a long time to get through this one, and weeks later I still find it hard to decide how I feel about it, but it’s absolutely memorable.
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (⭐)
I’ve been ridiculously lucky this month and read a lot of high quality and entertaining books. This was not one of them and I really struggled.
Hanks has written a series of short stories with a through theme of nostalgia and a shoehorned motif of a typewriter. Seriously, the first two or three are ok, but then you stop focusing on the stories and just waiting for the inevitable bloody typewriter to pop up “subtly”. Spotting the typewriter ends up feeling like the point to each story, after which you can move on. The most disappointing thing is that each story starts with a promising enough concept and then just…nothing happens.
It’s competently written, and every story is just…nice. At times you get the impression that Hanks feels he’s writing an “edgy” story, and he’s not. Unfortunately “Competent” and “nice” are not what I’m looking for in stories.
After spending a week of my life immersed in my new favourite novel I picked up Sonny and Me by Ross Sayers to review, stealing myself that it just wasn’t going to be as good but “I’d better give it a chance”. And something amazing happened; it completely blew me over and stormed into my heart.
Set in Battlefield High in Stirlingshire, Sonny and Me follows two teenage boys; Sonny and Billy Daughter, best friends just trying to make it through secondary school with their dignity intact, when Daughter’s favourite school teacher, Miss Baird, is summarily kicked out of school and his hopes of making it through his Maths National 5 are dashed. Being a good Scots lad, Daughter is not willing to let this stand and he and Billy set about sticking their noses in and trying to unravel the web of gossip and intrigue that permeates their school. Is Miss Baird a home-wrecking villain, or is something more sinister going on?
The description of Sonny and Me doesn’t begin to touch on the warmth and humour that characterise this book. Sonny and Daughter are so well drawn, so recognisable and relatable, that I would willingly read about them watching paint dry; because I guarantee that their take on it would make me laugh. From the first time Sonny opens his beautifully naive mouth on page 1 I was laughing. These are two young boys who may not always have everything sorted, but deal with unrequited love, coming out and criminals with the same compassion, twinkle of wit and groan inducing jokes. Who express their “wokeness” with moral integrity but also a strong sense of Scottish mischief. Who, if my sons grew to be anything like them, I would be intensely proud; even while pulling my hair out with stress and despair. They feel like a true and honest depiction of kind and full of trouble teenage boys.
Around them the plot flows, always grounded in believability, even as it weaves its way through its mad cap revelations at the end (perhaps the one exception is the headmistress who feels a little pantomime villain in her boo-hiss evilness, but that is real nit picking.). Every step and choice the boys make is logical and relatable and often hilariously funny.
Maybe it’s because I spent four years in Stirling and so the geographical references made me feel like I’d come home, but Sonny and Me is so full of heart, humour and a rollicking good plot that reading it feels like hanging out with your best friends. This is a story targeted at young adults but endlessly enjoyable and highly recommended for everyone. Mature, thoughtful and genuinely laugh out loud funny.
This is a bit of an unfair month; nothing I read was a particular DUD, although there were a lot of “average” reads. However nothing fell below 3 stars (out of 5). That said, there were a lot of very specialised genre books, so bare in mind that although I enjoyed them all, they are definitely not all for everyone.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
This was my surprise of the month. An impulse pick up from the Library display, it felt like Kismet and it was. Orlean is a staff writer for the New Yorker, who previously wrote the Orchid Thief, which I’ve heard of but yet to read. In The Library Book she re-discovers her love of libraries through her son’s school project and sets her journalistic eye on the history and depths of the Los Angeles Central Library which suffered a cataclysmic fire in 1986.
Part History book, part mystery investigation and part sociology study of the Microcosm of the Library’s clientele, no description can do this book justice. Try and tell someone what it’s about and it just sounds archaic, but like the libraries it waxes lyrical about, it has hidden fathoms. It’s beautiful; atmosphere and quotes dripping from every page, and not only have I not stopped talking about it since I read it, but I’ve immediately had to go out and buy my own copy. Seriously, give it a try, if you love books I dare you not to fall further in love with libraries and librarians after reading this.
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies, curated by Scarlett Curtis
A collection of essays from activists, actresses, and women wanting to shout their autonomy from the hills, FDWP is a must read for anyone beginning their Feminist journey, or simply wanting to shore up their battle weary heart after another day of fighting the patriarchy. As with all essays, you may not agree with everything written here, but the book makes clear that you don’t have too. Everyone’s interpretation of Feminism is going to be slightly different, and each is equally valid. It’s about listening to all view points, educating yourself on experiences you may not directly have had and supporting other women in their own battlefields, and all the proceeds go to Girl Up a United Nations Foundation Initiative, so you’re helping others while reading!
I found it inspirational and funny and I think if you come to it willing to learn then you’ll definitely gain something from it.
Snakeskins by Tim Major
I’m not going to say much about this, because I have book giveaway and fuller review coming later in the month – but it’s definitely worth it. An excellent and intriguing Sci-fi novel which deals with themes of humanity, empathy and power and which I could not predict even down to the last couple of chapters.
Death Sentence by Stuart Moore (Published 2 May 2019)
I have an Avengers itch that needs scratched (It’s not on in the cinema here until the 24th of May. Avoiding spoilers is HARD), so this came along at the right time. Thanos is my Ultimate villain right now and so getting a book looking at his internal motivations has the same feel as reading a serial killer psychological study…who says Marvel fans take things too seriously?
This book is NOT set in the cinematic universe, but it is close enough to scratch that itch for me. Having suffered a final defeat at the hands of the Avengers Thanos begs his beloved Mistress Death for a final chance to prove his devotion and she puts him through an afterlife walkabout that steadily reveals hidden depths to Thanos and his motivations, as well as some welcome cameos from more heroic characters.
The Titanic Detective Agency by Lindsay Littleson (Published 15 May 2019)
Trembling with excitement, Bertha Watt sets out on the adventure of a lifetime: her and her mother leaving behind their old life in Aberdeen to meet up with her father in Oregon and start a new life full of promise and opportunity and, if she behaves herself, a pony. Facing several boring days crossing the Atlantic onboard a ship, she and her new friend, Madge, decide to set up The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency. Along the way, Bertha befriends Johan, a 3rd class passenger with a desperate passion to reunite his family. But something even more ominous is lurking over the horizon: It’s April 1912 and Bertha, her family and her friends are sailing to America aboard the Titanic’s maiden voyage.
The Titanic Detective Agency by Lindsay Littleson is a tale of two halves. The first; a look at the innocent and nostalgic childhood from the early twentieth century – both that of the privileged, and the heavier responsibilities of those in poverty. The second half is wrought with tangible horror and heartbreak, as the ending that you almost forgot was looming comes to fruition. Littleson has done her research, and although the narrative is fiction, all the characters are based on true-life passengers aboard the doomed Ocean liner with some of the more out there twists and turns being based on fact – truth is often stranger than fiction after all. An excellent introduction to the Titanic for younger readers.
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Macarenhas
In the 60s four female scientists make a landmark breakthrough that will transform the world – Time travel. But their paths soon diverge as one of them has a shakey temporary reaction and is unashamedly pushed out in order not to tarnish the project. Meanwhile, in the present a mysterious and unidentified dead body appears in a locked room, but without any way to identify it how can the case be solved.
I am a SUCKER for Time Travel. It doesn’t need to make sense for me, I just love the different narrative options it can open up for a story – it feels like a sandbox of possibilities for me. So when this fell through my letterbox courtesy of my monthly book subscription I was giddy. It was a dark exploration of how power corrupts and that we should be careful what we wish for, alongside a healthy dose or mystery thriller, and female lead to boot. My only complaint was that it felt a little like it was playing it safe to appeal to the mainstream market and that it could have let loose and gone even darker.
Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce
Alison is a high flying London Barrister deep in a guilt ridden affair and who’s family life is falling apart, her husband Carl systematically pulling away and taking their daughter with him. When Alison is handed her first murder by her lover, things start to come to a head. But who is really manipulating who and can Alison find her way back from the brink to the life she really wants?
It’s a typical mystery thriller, well-written but fairly predictable, and with a messy alcoholic female protaganist. A must read for anyone who loved Girl on a train and Anatomy of a Murder, but still a mystery thriller by numbers.
The Farm by Joanne Ramos (Published 7 June 2019)
Le Sigh. I enjoyed The Farm; it was a good read but it simply didn’t live up to expectations. It was sold as a feminist almost dystopian tale, and while all the main characters are complex women, it is much more focused on current world issues which we’re grappling with and moral and ethical questions around surrogacy and potential exploitation. While these are interesting and prescient topics and the characters were engaging and well written, the ending felt like a cop out. I’m not sure it ever really reached a conclusion. I was happy for the outcome for most characters, but it felt like it dodged the overarching issues and complexities in order to wrap everything up in a nice little bow, without ever truly delving that deeply into the issues of exploitation and racism that it hinted at.
A good read but not as world shattering as had been implied.
Supernatural– Children of Anubis by Tim Waggoner
I’m a Supernatural Fan. For a brief period I was even part of the Fandom. I’m on my third full rewatch and I will absolutely feel like something is missing when the show ends next year (God help me, those boys BETTER get a happy ending!..although I’m not holding out much hope), so I jumped up and down with excitement when I was offered this for a preview, and I did enjoy it. But it did not feel like a Sam and Dean story.
Introducing a new monster after so many seasons is impressive, and this story, which is set during season 12 introduces a family of Jackals, a monster that has generally stayed off the radar of hunters by not rocking the boat and only harvesting after natural deaths. However they do rub Werewolves up the wrong way, and this unfortunate pack find themselves in a town already marked as the territory of a particularly aggressive pack of werewolves. So begins a turf war which is essentially a bloodier version of Westside Story, or Romeo and Juliet to go back to the original. And Turf wars Definitely attract the attention of hunters. So enter Sam and Dean and a couple of other fan favourites, but the story still belongs to the Jackals. And it’s engaging, and the characters are excellent so I’d definitely pick up another one. But that still doesn’t mask the disappointment that this wasn’t a story focused on Sam and Dean, despite some illuminating flashbacks.
All My Colours by David Quantick (Published 16 May 2019)
Todd Milstead is a jackass; barely tolerated by a few close friends who love his whiskey more than him and loathed by almost everybody else, his arrogance and self-satisfaction mark him for a comeuppance well overdue. Until one night when he discovers that he can recall a book, word for word, that no one else has ever heard of – the titular All My Colors. Being a wannabe writer who, until this moment hasn’t managed to construct enough narrative to fit on a napkin, Todd decides that this is his chance, and while fending off an acrimonious divorce sets about writing the next Great American Novel.
All My Colors is the latest novel from David Quantick, who this time takes a twisty look at the Publishing industry and the pain of trying to write something, sometimes anything, that might help you leave a mark. In this case it comes with a high price for Todd and his long suffering friends, proving a cautionary tale at chasing your dreams at any cost, and serving up an end reminiscent of an episode of Tales from the Crypt – weird but deserved and with a cackley twinkle.
All My Colors is dark and twisty and has a horrible protagonist, even in his nicer moments and so-called reformation. While the end feels a little bit too rushed and the atmosphere is all over the place, it carries enough threads of curiosity through it to keep you turning the pages and wondering how they can all be tied together.
I have recently become obsessed with Marie Kondo (as it seems has everyone else) and recently began working through her recommended processes. For the most part I’ve found that it seems to work for me: taking out everything and only returning the things which provide “joy” is genuinely very cathartic. However I’ve now reached the Books category, and here is where Marie and I part ways. She claims that she keeps 30 books or less (although, granted, she isn’t demanding that everyone else does the same). As a community of book lovers I think we all seem to agree that this makes her some kind of soulless monster and it has seriously damaged her reputation as an innocuous de-cluttering guru.
Because here’s the thing: Books are not clutter. They are worlds; adventures; lifetimes full of emotional nourishment. They are tools which help us on our journeys to self-awareness. Besides that, they are just bloody good fun. Every book on my shelves provides joy, so good luck prying any of them out of my hands, but I’m certainly suspicious of someone who only finds joy in 30 books. I mean honestly, I’m decluttering to make room for MORE books!
Saying that, I’m a bibliophile and I can’t resist a book challenge so I’ve decided to play along. Grudgingly. So gun to my head, if I HAD to pick 30 books in hard copy and could no longer have any others (aside from the sneaky kindle which would obviously have all of the removed books stashed away electronically) what would they be?
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
1984 by George Orwell
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
The Secret Island by Enid Blyton
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman
Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
Just One Damn Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The collected works of Shakespeare (This may seem like a cheat, BUT it is a book that I own. One binding= one book!)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Eric by Terry Pratchett
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
Carrie by Stephen King
Matilda by Roald Dahl
I know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Which Lie did I tell? By William Goldman
Circe by Madeline Miller
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Buddhism for beginners
Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu
A Million little pieces by James Frey
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Is there a large amount of Terry Pratchett on the list? Yes. To be honest you’re lucky the list didn’t just say “Discworld series”. And this was painful, but these are the books that I come back to again and again, or are so beautiful that I’d bite anyone that tried to remove them from my possession. What would be on your list? CAN you narrow it to 30 or do you struggle to make it up to 30? And what do you feel about the idea of decluttering books? Let me know what you think.
What I don’t know about the online Book Community could, I suspect, fill a small country, but I’m learning. Slowly but surely, I’m learning. And the thing I have learnt about in the last couple of weeks has made me giddily excited – Book Fairies.
The Book Fairy movement combines two things that I think there should always be more of in the world: books and random acts of kindness and generosity.
The Book Fairy initiative launched in March 2017 and currently boasts nearly 9000 book fairies in over 100 countries. Book Fairies gather up books which they’ve enjoyed and then set about sharing the book love by hiding them in places to be discovered. I learnt about it quite by accident when the Western Isles Book Fairy account (@bookfairies_eileansiar) followed me on Instagram and as I snooped around their page I squealed with delight, free books and a community intent on sharing some happiness around? Sign me up!
So I did. Sign up I mean. And I hid my first book earlier this week (It was very hard not to hide behind a car and wait until someone found it, but I decided that might be a smidge too creepy.)
Anyone can become a book fairy and you don’t need anything special to do it. You can package up a book you think would give someone pleasure and hide it as a surprise for someone to come across, usually with a note to assure whoever finds it that it’s a free book for them to take away and enjoy. But you can also order official stickers, among other things, off the website if you want that little extra glimmer of officialdom to get you started.
I have yet to be lucky enough to find one of the books hidden by the official Book Fairies Eilean Siar account, but I’m going to be keeping my eyes peeled, and now I’ve found an exciting new way to make room on my shelves for more books without feeling like I’m just abandoning books I love – sharing them out to hopefully give someone a little boost on a gloomy winter’s day.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted, in large part because it’s been a busy month and completing a thought has been an achievement, let alone managing to write with anything resembling creativity or coherence. But, as always, reading has provided me with a respite.
Living in the Hebrides, reading is a no brainer for me. It’s often like living on a full time book retreat, even with the franticness of everyday life; the work life balance allows an extraordinary amount of time to read in comfort. Hygge existed here long before they starting charging extortionate fees for books telling you to buy blankets and more books.
For those of you that don’t know, the Outer Hebrides is a group of islands off the North West coast of Scotland with a population of around 27,000. It’s a windswept stunning place that on a nice day could stand in for the Caribbean and on gloomy days could reasonably host an adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Full of winding roads leading to hidden nooks and crannies, it’s an area that, despite living here my whole life, I’m still finding places where I’ve never been before and which surprise me.
But growing up here was, and still is, difficult in a very unique way. It’s a close-knit place where everyone knows your business, or if they don’t they assume they do and judge accordingly. It’s a restrained stoic community, which a lot of national media likes to hype as being a Sabbath obsessed oddity and is a completely unfair and unbalanced portrayal. At times it can be unbearably claustrophobic, particularly if you stand out in any way. However the people are fiercely loyal and protective of their communities. Being a historically sea-faring community, it is possible to find someone with Lewis, Harris, Uist or Barra connections in every corner of the world, and if you find them you’ve found an ally. It can be a difficult community to break your way into (the term “incomers” is used often enough to be an ongoing bone of contention) but once you do, you have a home for life, and a family of 27,000 along with it.
So it was, that growing up as an introvert in this environment I dived into books very early on and unearthed new worlds to explore. I found solace through a difficult teen period in the school library which was a much better option than the town streets given the temperamental Scottish weather. Wherever I went I had my nose in a book and a spare book in my bag. Through bullying and bad break ups, leaving home and growing up, reading has not only been my constant but has often shaped my direction of travel and who I’ve become.
As I grew up there were no grand bookshops on the islands, but charity shop finds fuelled my tastes and the library, tucked away in a souped-up porta cabin for years before finally getting a dedicated building, supported my growth. Briefly a book order service was available at a local shop where I had a regular account, and I poured over Scholastic book catalogues from the school. (I still do whenever the children, very occasionally, bring them home).
We still don’t have a dedicated bookshop, one of the newsagents has a small section, but it’s by no means extensive, or particularly affordable. Our library is excellent but is under constant threat of having its legs cut out from beneath it. And I wonder how the children who are currently suffering bullying cope with it? Where do they find their refuge from the constant bombardment of modern life, where missiles can come at you from all directions and at all times of day or night?
Finding books in the islands became my quest as a child, one which gave me a purpose, a distraction and a world education and one which I still follow with fervour as an adult. More than once being able to escape into a book has saved me. But that passion was shaped by an environment that encouraged me to read while hunkering down through storms and lying on the machair in the sunshine. Despite the hardships and the constant pressures, it is a privileged and idyllic life and I feel exceptionally lucky. But dear God, someone open a bookshop!