March reading round up

Sal by Mick Kitson
Sal and her little sister Peppa have suffered for years at the hands of their step-father. But with a new horror threatening Peppa’s innocence, Sal decides that enough is enough and they’re leaving. The 13 year old Glasgow girl takes matters into her own hands and her and Peppa flee for a life in the Scottish hills fuelled by Youtube survival videos and a desire for safety.

Sal is an undervalued hardened, traumatised and big hearted heroine, who’s love for her sister is her guiding star. Kitson nails the voice of a young survivor who takes solace in her own capabilities for survival and creates one of the most wonderful protaganists. It’s a slim book which packs a punch and gut punches you at the everyday ordeals our children are having to face while also proving optimistic and is one I’ll be recommending to people for a long long time.

The Burning by Laura Bates
Anyone who likes to dismiss the lives of teenagers as playground politics NEEDS to read this Young Adult book. Anna and her mother pitch up in a small Scottish town with no background and new names. In the course of settling into a new life Anna begins researching the witch hunt of a woman who lived in her new home over 200 years earlier. But what she finds dovetails horribly with her own past which begins to catch up with her.

This is the first generation that has had to

deal with persecution by internet and the humiliation that entails, but the drive to persecute women for their mistakes is as old as time and Bates manages to weave a powerful and gripping novel that deals with misogyny, social media and the hazards and challenges of being a modern teenager trying to navigate a world with no guidance or understanding from previous generations. It really is a must read for everyone.

On the front line with the Women who Fight Back by Stacey Dooley
Stacey Dooley may have risen to fame this year thanks to her warm performance on Strictly, but she has long been a journalistic force to reckon with. Down to earth, direct and endlessly empathetic she has shone a light on issues in some of the most dangerous places in the world and humanised the people experiencing things beyond our imagination. She brings this same warmth and curiosity to this book about some of the most incredible women she has met and the horrors that they have survived and overcome.

It’s a lovely book that is easy to read in style and challenging in content but focuses, appropriately, on the women she has met rather than on herself (although fans of Dooley won’t be disappointed either.)

Blindness by Jose Saramago
I love dystopian fiction. I’m not sure why. I don’t think I’m a masichist, but I do enjoy thought experiments on how people might react if everything is flipped on them without any warning. In Blindness, a contagious disease which causes sudden blindness suddenly pops up and spreads rapidly and indiscriminantly around the world. What follows is a horrific look at how quickly structural respect and authority breaks down and how dependent people would become on the fickle kindness of individuals. It’s engrossing and predictably tragic in some places but still manages to introduce glimmers of hope towards the end.

The Reckoning by John Grisham
I loved this, right up until the end. Grisham is a master at weaving stories full of humanity and compelling characters but presenting them in analytical case study type ways. In The Reckoning, popular farmer Pete Banning gets up one day, calmly goes about his business and then walks into his local church and executes local pastor Dexter Bell. What follows is a character study of a community and time period to try to ascertain what possible motive there could be for such a cold killing. And it does keep you gripped, right up until the big reveal which I found a massive let down.

Without giving any spoilers, I think I understand how in the time period and location the motive might have proven scandalous, but in this day and age and after such a tightly wound pre-amble, it felt senseless and unnecessary and simply not worth the destruction the crime wrecked through the family and community. This may have been the point – how senseless it was, but given the time spent building empathy for Banning and the horror felt by his family at the reveal I think we are meant to be as shocked as them. I wasn’t, and it undid any intrigue and sympathy I did have for the characters. I’ll still read every Grisham I can get my hands on though!

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans
Mattie is an aging suffragette, still full of passion but pushing a cause that society has lost interest in, so she channels her energy into setting up the Amazons. A local girl’s group aimed at demonstrating first hand that the attendees can be intelligent, capable and ambitious.

Mattie is a loveable barging train of a character who can’t understand the complex emotions in the characters around her, even when they are directed at her, but is full of heart and good intentions. It’s a nice novel about what happens to protestors once their fight is deemed over, and they’re not ready to walk away.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis has spent some time moving around the US Government departments that no one understands and identifying the essential and completely underestimated services they provide. It is clear that while it might be frustrating, but acceptable that the average US citizen does not understand these agencies, the terrifying reality is that the current administration does not understand them, has no interest in understanding them, and is slowly and irrevocably descimating them and that thousands of hidden essential services they provide.

There is a general feeling that the world is burning right now with Global Politics and the erosion of human rights, but what this does is provide the evidence in greater detail that any collapse may come not just from intentional destruction but from nonchalant brushing under the rug of issues that just aren’t “sexy” enough.

Sherlock Holmes Vs Dracula by John H Watson
According to a forward by Watson, Holmes actually ended up investigating and helping to take down Dracula and was a key protagonist during the events of Bram Stoker’s tale, but thanks to Van Helsing’s ego his contributions were erased from history, except in this “re-discovered” account.
It’s written as a Sherlock Holmes novel, with the concise style and sudden leaps of ‘logic’ and follows the story of Dracula, slotting in Holmes and Watson were they can reasonably be expected to have an impact. It’s a neat little read, although my pleasure was mitigated by the understandable restrictions on how much Sherlock can actually effect. In the end he basically washes his hands of it saying “job done” despite Dracula still being at large, but as a thought experiment it is good fun.

The Secret Island by Enid Blyton
Peggy, Nora Jack and Mike run away from abusive and neglectful guardians and set up a new life for themselves on an island in the middle of a lake. With farming and survival skills what follows is a nostalgic look at an extended game of playing house, whereby the children prove how much more capable and better off they are when left to their own devices.

This was my favourite book as a child and I recently picked it up again as we were looking at Children’s Books in my book club. The cover has long been falling off it, and I remember how I used to finish it and flip to the start to begin again. For nostalgia’s sake I still love it, but I think we can all agree that a lot of Enid Blyton just doesn’t sit comfortably anymore. Full of privileged children exhibiting spoilt behaviour and horrible levels of toxic masculinity, it may send lovely big messages but the more subtle messages it sends mean I will not be reading this to my children. Even if I will still keep my old battered copy and occasionally re read it.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Siddhartha was a tough read. I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist texts recently and really enjoying them, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that Siddhartha was simply playing with his privilege.
It follows the story of a man looking for meaning and enlightenment in the time of the Buddha and plays a little like an ancient Forrest Gump, but with a less likeable lead. It’s short, and there are some interesting Buddhist principles in there but it wasn’t the most engaging tale.

Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
I was desperate for something funny and ridiculous, so a buddy comedy where Barak Obama and Joe Biden go off to solve a murder case seemed perfect and I sat down ready to laugh with two beloved characters. It. Was. Awful. Biden was portrayed a jealous jilted partner simpering after Obama who was distant, egotistical and dismissive. Neither was likeable and the plot was barely there. I wasn’t expecting it to be realistic to the President and vice-president – obviously. But given the success the internet had with generating a funny and warm bromance between the two through meme wars, I did expect them to be a little…nicer. And to like each other a little more. Shouldn’t have bothered finishing it.

Pick of the month: Sal by Mick Kitson

Dud of the month: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

February Reading Round Up

One of these days I will get one of these out on time…For now, I count four days into March pretty good going (I’ve just started TWO new jobs, so the fact I remember any of my passwords for this site, let alone what I read last month, is a bloody miracle!)

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When they call you a terrorist : A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

Patrisse Khan Cullors grew up in a poor neighbourhood in Los Angeles and witnessed first-hand the structural oppression and institutional racism upon which America, and most western countries are built on. It’s no wonder that she grew up inflamed and ready to fight for freedoms that the privileged take for granted, such as the right to support, care and love and the right not to be removed from your bed in the middle of the night by police teams in full riot gear on a fishing expedition.

What is surprising is that she grew up fighting for these things from a place of love rather than hatred. The atrocities to which she, her family and her community have been subjected, which she details in searing, harrowing detail, would be enough to fill up anyone’s fuel tank with anger, but Khan-Cullors has found ways in which she can process. This then forms the basis and the ethos of the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement which she co-founded and which believes that until everyone has equality, no one has equality.

When They Call you a terrorist is a memoir of two halves, albeit they flow together seemlessly. In the first, Khan-Cullors details her experiences growing up, from kind and loving parents who were fighting simply to keep their heads above water against overwhelming forces trying to push them under, to a brother punished horrifically for daring to be a black man with a mental illness. In the second, she describes the rolling snowball that became the Black Lives Matter movement and all it stands for. This is an absolute must read.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Viewing the events of the Trojan wars and Odysseus’ adventures from Penelope’s point of view, Atwood’s re-examination of the myths of ancient Greece is a clear influencer on the more recent Circe by Madeline Miller. The novel gives ancient myth a feminist slant as the ‘quiet’ and ‘obedient’ trope of Penelope as the doting wife is flipped on its head and she is given agency over the events which have historically been done to her as well as a modern critique of the crimes waged against women by men trying to protect their egos. It provides a fantastic and interesting new entry point to well known tales which allow you to engage critically in the classics.

Bookshop memories by Patrick Bruskiewich

A very short play based on an equally short story from George Orwell about his memories of working in a bookshop. Sardonic and insightful, you will either recognise the customers Orwell describes, or identify with them. An entertaining and thoughtful assessment which will hopefully provide you with a little more empathy for your own local book wranglers, in particular second hand bookshop owners.

And the Rest is History by Jodi Taylor

An Argumentation of historians by Jodi Taylor

The Long and Short of it by Jodi Taylor

I am now up to date on this series, including all the short stories, so those of you that are not interested in the St Mary’s Chronicles series will be relieved to know that these will not be appearing on any further round up lists (until the next one is published or I decide to re-read them that is!)

But for this last grouping I have one description – OUCH. And the Rest is History is a brutal entry into the series whereby it opens with a glimmer of hope as Ronan approaches St Mary’s with the offer of a truce and then everything rapidly goes downhill from there, leading to long lasting and heartbreaking repercussions. I’m not sure I can stand much more heartbreak for Max, and in the author’s note for An Argumentation of Historians, even Taylor jokes that her publishers begged for something a little cheerier; which thankfully she delivers. It is still tinged with sadness after the events of And the Rest is History, but it is a much happier edition and a return to more of the carefree spirit exhibited in earlier books.

And the Long and Short of it is a lovely series of, mostly, comedic one shots which generally happen around Christmas time and should be read interspersed with the full length novels (there are helpful guides online to show where to read them in the series). There is no requirement to read them, but events in these stories are occasionally referred to in the novels so they do fill in some blanks.

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

Detective Harry Hole is your typical grumpy, anti-social detective struggling with personal and professional issues which are exacerbated by alcoholism. In some ways it’s as though Nesbo got a list of detective story clichés and ensured he ticked off every last one of them, but Hole is still entertaining.

In Nemesis Hole is assigned to the investigation team for a series of bank robberies which include the death of a bank teller (hence Harry’s presence despite specialising in 20190224_123903murders). At the same time, an old girlfriend who recently made contact is found dead on the very night that she and Harry meet up and he blacks out. After her death is ruled a suicide, Harry sets out on his own private investigation, as much to reassure himself that he didn’t do it as to find the true culprit.

Nothing is truly surprising in Nemesis, although it is a decent read and I’ll certainly continue to read Jo Nesbo books, but it feels rather like brain popcorn: light but moreish.

 

 

The Librarian by Salley Vickers

Sylvia Blackwell is starting out on her career as a Librarian and accepts the post of Children’s Librarian in East Mole. She is young, enthusiastic, and eager to set out on the adventure of life. Unfortunately, at the same time as she has life-changing impacts on the children of the village, she also begins a passionate and ill-advised affair with the local married Doctor. Both Sylvia and her lover seriously underestimate the power of small town gossip.

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There was nothing offensive about The Librarian. Perhaps that was the problem, it felt very safe and a little twee. The characters were not particularly endearing, either for their virtues or their transgressions and I found myself rather underwhelmed by the whole thing. The doctor that Sylvia begins her affair with is completely unlikeable, and so Sylvia becomes unsympathetic as it becomes hard to identify what she sees in him to risk so much. Even she doesn’t seem that keen on him most of the time, and seems to find the idea of an affair more enticing that the actual event. This shakes the foundations for sympathy which might have existed otherwise.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Mr Hancock is a small shipping merchant. Angelica Neal is a London Escort who is trying to maintain her independence and resist the lure back into her Madam’s house. One night in 1775 one of Hancock’s captains returns having exchanged his boat for the corpse of a mermaid which Hancock is forced to begin displaying in an attempt to recoup his 20190204_132623.jpgloses. Finding himself in London social circles which he has never experienced, and which make him feel deeply uncomfortable, Hancock and Neal are thrown together and begin a friendship and, eventually, a romance which is shaken to the core when Hancock brings the curse of a second mermaid down on them.

I was so looking forward to this. For a long time. And I really struggled with it. So much of the book is told from Angelica’s point of view, and until about three quarters of the way through she is pretty shallow and unlikeable. Hancock, while nice is bumbling and naïve. The writing is fantastic and the atmosphere is tangible, but it’s not always a pleasant atmosphere to be so immersed in. Characters are well drawn, but rarely sympathetic. The last quarter when Angelica and John finally start communicating is a little more enjoyable, but it takes effort to get there.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

In a dystopian future, where the elite and last survivors of humanity have moved to a resource sucking Earth-orbiting Space Station operated by the shady CIEL and it’s once-a-celebrity leader Jean de Men, Christine is a Skin Graft artist who has become disenchanted with humanity and idolises the rebel and heretic Joan de Dirt. Meanwhile Joan and her soul mate have survived the geocatastrophes that destroyed Earth and now roam its barren landscape trying to survive.

I love Sci-fi. I love dystopian sci-fi. And I LOVED the concept of this book, but I was so lost with this. I  felt like I was reading a really complex poem in glass in a hall of mirrors. I glimmered snatches of plot and bits of character, especially around Joan (everyone else was pretty obscure) but mostly it was filled with grandiose motifs and ruminations on philosophical lessons in snatches and grabs making it very hard to hang my interest on any one thing. I’m not totally beyond metaphysical books, but this one felt fairly incomprehensible and rather nightmarish. By reviews online it seems to be a bit of a marmite book, either getting 5 stars or scoring lowly, so it’s a book that some will love, but I loathed.

 

Pick of the month: When They call you a Terrorist

Dud of the Month: The Book of Joan

Thank you to Canongate books for When They call you a Terrorist and The Book of Joan which I was sent in exchange for an honest review.

January Round Up

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Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe, daughter of Helios, God of the Sun is shunned by the Olympians and finds herself exiled to Aaiaia for crimes involving witchcraft. Here, her journey of growing up and growing wise begins as, despite being on the periphery, Circe finds herself becoming entangled in the games of fate that Gods play with mortals, and meets her fair share of heroes. Madeline Miller’s retelling of the Greek Myths from the viewpoint of the world’s first witch is formidable. Circe is a fully fleshed out character navigating a world that she was not born to and embarking on a cosmic journey of self-discovery. I loved it and I can’t wait to get at Miller’s other books.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Jodi Taylor

No Time Like the Past by Jodi Taylor

A Trail through Time by Jodi Taylor

Lies, Damned Lies and History by Jodi Taylor

A perfect example of the exploits of St Mary’s Historians is contained in What Could Possibly go Wrong and it involves a baby mammoth. Max is the newly appointed Chief 20190111_111314Training Officer for St Mary’s, a University sponsored team of time travellers who jump around in time observing events for posterity and more than occasionally causing a little havoc while doing so.

Those who have read my recent round ups know that I am entirely obsessed with this series and have been tearing my way through it. Sadly I am nearing the end of the published works, but some of the best of the series have been this month. Instead of running out of steam, Taylor keeps finding new and exciting ways to keep the pace going. But be warned, she comes from the George R R Martin school of character treatment, and every so often a character will rip your heart out and stomp on it. If you haven’t read this series, you really really should.

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

Struggling actress Lucy Waring decides to get some well-earned R and R when her sister 20190110_153108invites her for a family holiday on the island of Corfu. Also staying on the family estate are the enigmatic Godfrey Manning and Father and son Julian and Max Gale, who lead a reclusive life away from prying eyes. Suddenly everyone’s peace is disturbed with the death of Spiro, a local fisherman with close ties to all of them, and secrets and intrigue are inevitably unravelled.

Although the twists and turns are inevitably predictable, the 1960s setting and accompanying manners of its characters add layers of charm to an engaging story. The characters are likeable, if a little patronising of the hospitality and kindness of the Greek people, and there is just enough uncertainty over allegiances to be intriguing.

Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove

Just as the crew of Serenity is about to embark on a reputation restoring delivery with an extra possibility of explosiveness (Thanks for that Badger), Mal disappears and the crew is left trying to decide which danger to run from and which one to run too. Mal despite facing his fair share of dangers finds himself facing the most personal, and the most serious series of events in his life.

I love Firefly and I loved this. I’ve been starved of Firefly since it was cancelled unforgivably early, and this story instantly made me want to go back and rewatch the season again. The characters were vividly recognisable and it added some much craved backstory, particularly for Shepherd Book. I usually measure a books worth by whether I want more. With this one I can’t wait for the next two due out later this year.

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The God of all small boys by Joseph Lamb

A book for 8 to 11 year olds, this is being published on 14 February and my full Review will be up alongside a review with an interview with some fantastic answers from the author on the 26th.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

In 60s New York 4 siblings, Daniel, Simon, Klara and Varya, are enjoying a languid summer when news reaches them of a travelling fortune teller set up in the immediate vicinity. Except that this fortune teller specialises in telling people the date of their death. Daring each other with innocent naivete to visit her, the family are given widely different fortunes, with lifelong repercussions. We then follow each sibling over the years and see the consequences of the visit, providing both inspiring and cautionary tales.

I knew nothing of this book going in and I was surprised at the beauty that was found in the minutiae of everyday lives. Each story had a very different feel and it was enjoyable, if a little pedestrian in the story beats in places. A solid read but pretty forgettable.

If Cats Disappeared From the World by Genki Kawamura

Following a terminal diagnosis, our unnamed narrator is then visited by the devil, with a bargain that, predictably, is too good to be true. Steadily he learns what matters most to him in life, and how the seemingly little things can have a profound impact.

A modern Japanese fable, this contains all the life affirming elements set in strange hypothetical situations which you can expect from a storytelling culture which revels in nudging home it’s life lessons via the most surreal avenue possible. But it was not as engaging as the premise promised to be. The Narrator was a little two dimensional for me to invest in his journey of self-discovery, and I didn’t find him any more likeable at the end than at the beginning, which made it hard for me to invest in his tale.

Selected Poems by T.S. Eliot

No. Just no. I feel like a Philistine saying this because Eliot is held up as such a literary classic, and I went in with such high hopes, but knowing very little about Eliot and I loathed it. I persevered, and I did find one poem I liked: The Hippopotamus, but I had to fight through too much self-indulgent, racist and misogynistic tripe to find it. Eliot is clearly poetic marmite: his fans will fight to the ends of the earth to justify him and his viewpoints claiming it is done as satire. My feeling is it’s not and the man was a prick.

Pick of the month: Circe by Madeline Miller

Dud of the Month: Selected Poems by T.S. Eliot

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November Reading Round Up

Bit quicker of the mark this month, hopefully that’s a good sign. I’ve enjoyed most of my books this month, bar one. I have a ridiculously large pile to read for December, the sooner the holidays the come the better! As always, let me know what you thought of any of these, or of any recommendations you may have based on the below.  Anyway, let’s Dig in:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Spoiler alert: Eleanor is not completely fine; She is a lonely, traumatised young woman thumbnail_20181110_211459who is the product of a deeply abusive childhood. But try telling her that. Her level of trauma is only superseded by her level of denial. And then slowly, and totally against her carefully mapped out routines, she begins to form connections. People come into her life who chip away at her carefully constructed walls and as her life begins to look a little messier and a little more joyful she begins to discover all the things she hadn’t even realised she was missing.

Equal parts absurdly funny and painfully visceral this book is a must read. It is optimistic and heartbreaking, empowering and full of love, and it perfectly highlights the impact a little kindness can have as well as the repercussions of casual cruelty. Yes, it’s everywhere, but don’t let that put you off – there’s a reason and there are elements of it which are much darker than I was expecting, despite the pervading sense of fun.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Following the death of her mother, Sophia and her Father move in with her Grandmother and establish a new family routine. The family spends its winters in town on the mainland and summers on a private island in the Gulf of Finland; a quiet, isolated existence where small joys become momentous and relationships count for everything.

The Summer Book hinges on Sophia’s relationship with her grandmother, while her father remains a faceless object on the periphery, preoccupied with work and hard graft to keep the family self-sufficient. Meanwhile Sophia and her Grandmother push and pull at each other as their relationship shifts and reforms over the years.thumbnail_IMG_20181117_212222_476 They fight, they make up and they explore their immediate surroundings, finding endless adventures in the tiny and unpredictable environment and a deep bond.

From the author of the Moomins, The Summer Book is a touching story with a predictably strong focus on the importance and warmth of family relationships. Its’ style is reminiscent of the Little House books (minus the problematic racism and sense of privilege). It’s beautifully atmospheric, resulting in a tangible sense of island life and the importance of different family relationships.

The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig

The Truth Pixie has been cursed since birth, unable to utter anything except the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even when it causes no end of discomfort, hurt and offence to the magical creatures around her. With such an affliction she feels she has no choice but to lock herself away and engage with people as little as possible and only when absolutely necessary, until one day, when it all comes crashing down in an encounter with a Troll. But this seeming disaster quickly leads to the Truth Pixie making her first real friends who teach her to accept and value her curse as a gift.

This one was so short I almost feel like I’m cheating including it, but its message of being yourself and you will eventually find your people is important. And it’s Matt Haig who is quickly becoming my must read author of 2018.

One of our Thursday’s is Missing

Yes, I’m still ploughing my way through this series. Despite some of its ideological complexity it is highly entertaining in its Meta assessments of the written word. A Detective series set inside a Bookworld inside an alternative Universe (Head spinning yet?), where Thursday Next can jump between reality and the settings of any written word, this is a typical mystery series set inside a very atypical world. And just as you feel you’ve got a grip on things, Jasper Fforde has a bit of fun and throws a spanner in the works with One of our Thursday’s is Missing.

This is the first book to be told from the perspective of someone other than the “real” Thursday, instead switching to the viewpoint of her fictional counterpoint, the ‘written’ who has a very different set of motivations, is treated as inferior by just about everybody but is similar enough to the original that her curiosity is not entirely under control, making her the only one trustworthy enough to track down the real Thursday and unravel the conspiracies threatening both the real and the book world. One of Our Thursday’s is Missing is as good as the best in the series and better than many of them, but if you reach this far in the series it’s safe to say that I’m preaching to the choir.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn

I do enjoy Crime Fiction, but it’s not my go to genre. I struggle with the predictability of it; I often feel like it’s trying incredibly hard to illicit an emotional reaction or deliver a shock and it very rarely does, despite stories being beautifully crafted and the obvious narrative skill from the author. thumbnail_20181129_085510I struggle with the voyeuristic nature of it; I am drawn into rooting for increasingly terrible things to happen, simply to provide me with entertainment which I sometimes find unsettling. And yet, I tear through crime fiction books fast. They seem to be light palate cleansers, endlessly readable, but leaving me ready to consume something more substantial.

Anatomy of Scandal is such a book. Kate Woodcroft is a Crown Prosecutor with a particular taste for prosecuting sex crimes. James Whitehouse is the rising star politician who finds himself on trial for rape. Taking a unique angle of a crime mystery by viewing it from the court trial as opposed to initial investigation, the twists and turns were still clear from very early on. This book is clearly a product of the Me Too movement. Entitled powerful white men benefiting from a system that gives them the benefit of the doubt potentially facing their comeuppance, and there are some wonderfully crafted moments and characters, but it never quite feels like it manages to break out of the generic crime fiction boundaries. Enjoyable and readable popcorn for the soul.

Sled Zepplin

Elma the Elf is new to Santa’s toy factory. She’s full of enthusiasm and initiative; two qualities that are firmly discouraged in elves. It quickly becomes clear why as Elma discovers a conspiracy of MI5 proportions:  Santa is missing, and has been for years, which as a mangy farting and forgotten Comet explains, is why Parents have taken to giving out cheap nasty toys and dressing up as Santa. (Beware of this depending on what level of belief your child is at as it may lead to awkward questions).

I was eager to read this as it’s the first book I was given for an honest review and who doesn’t love free books? But for a long time I couldn’t because the day it arrived and I read the opening sentence  (which is a corker of an opening sentence) to my 6 year old he disappeared with it into his room and refused to emerge until he’d read the whole thing. I’m not sure I can provide a better review than that – he devoured it and loved it. My one caveat would be that Cranachan Books is advertising this as an “advent book”, one chapter a night in the lead up to Christmas. It will never last that long because your kids won’t want to stop.

Elevation by Stephen Kingthumbnail_20181115_184640

The latest Novella from King is a strange affair. It tells the story of Scott Corey who has discovered that he is exponentially losing weight without losing any mass, a terminal illness that only leaves him with months to craft some sort of positive impact to leave behind on his small Maine hometown.

On the surface it’s a pretty hamfisted story of equality, homophobia and and prejudices, however it is intricately woven with the importance of kindness and neighbourliness overcoming perceived differences and bringing out the best in people. Given its length, it has to do its job in a very small space and manages to be intriguing and optimistic if a little preachy. On top of all that, it has the page turning readability of all Stephen King stories. The man could describe Government Policy and probably make it compelling.

Darke by Rick Geckoski

Dr James Darke is a dick. There’s no way round it. He is a pompous, selfish, cruel, racist dick and even as an understanding for his present day actions develops in graphic detail it doesn’t combat the fact that he was a dick before his more recent traumas. As a character study it is somewhat interesting. Seeing the difference between his thought processes as he freely writes in his journal and the more restrained version he presents to the world, including his loved ones, is a jarring contrast but yeesh; This was a struggle. It felt like being stuck in the brain of a psychopath.thumbnail_20181201_230313

The novel opens with Darke sealing himself away from life and while you begin to understand the reasons for this about half way through (and I don’t want to spoil this because as hard as it was to read what he and Suzy go through on a human level, this was the only thing that gave me any semblance of sympathy for Darke and kept me going until the end) you have to make it through too many instances of blatant cruelty and casually racist attitudes to get there.  I believe in the author’s note he refers to Darke as “Curmudgeonly” but that suggests some level of grumpy charm which he simply doesn’t possess. Darke clearly has a way of viewing the world that it’s tempting to dismiss as unique, but then his wife displays some questionable views as well and it’s hard not to believe that these are just hateful people. It’s a very ‘worthy’ book but not an enjoyable one.

 

Pick of the month: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Dud of the Month: Darke by Rick Geckoski

Spooktober reading

Yes, I know, it is a week since the end of October and I’m only just doing a monthly round up now, but in all fairness; I’ve only just decided that this is something I want to do, so consider this a practice run.

This has been a big reading month for me, so I promise that there won’t be this amount of content in every monthly round up, but in October I managed 12 books. Phew, no wonder I’m tired! A lot of this level of reading has something to do with an ongoing bout of insomnia: and a lot of my insomnia might have something to do with picking up books way too close to bedtime. Whoever advised that you should read before going to sleep at night to help relax was clearly reading very different sorts of books.

Anyway, moving on.  At the end of each month I plan to rank the books I’ve read that month – best at the top. I’m really shocked to notice that my two best books from October are non-fiction as I’m normally purely a fiction kind of girl (Real life has too many sharp edges).

The Guilty Feminist: From our noble goals to our worst hypocrisies by Deborah Frances WhiteIMG_20181028_162325_812

Anyone who uses podcasts should be listening to the Guilty Feminist podcast. Thought-provoking, educational, intersectional and always striving to be better while admitting to those little niggles that might undermine your best intentions, the Guilty Feminist community is a glorious community filled with laughter, hope and righteous anger when it’s required. It’s fair to say I love it, so when a friend sent me a signed copy of Deborah Frances White’s new book, which deals with the same themes, I immediately promoted her to best friend and gave her my children in my will. (I didn’t do that; She would never have forgiven me. She’s getting the cat.)

I am also stealing her review of the book because I haven’t thought of anything better and I’m shameless: “It’s a self-help book for people who hate self-help books.” And it is. I found it empowering, inspirational, funny and challenging. If you want to know how and why you should check your privilege, why you take every opportunity to make your voice heard or even why it’s ok to like Say Yes to the Dress and how Dirty Dancing is a feminist text, then this is the book for you. Bugger that, this is a book for everyone and everyone should read it now.

As you Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Ewles, Joe Layden and Rob Reiner

Look there’s no getting round it, I am a MASSIVE fan of the Princess Bride and have been for a very long time so picking this book to read was a no-brainer for me. An account of the Princess Bride from the perspective of a very young and green Cary Ewles with contributions from every other major player who is currently still alive, this book is as charming, innocent and full of love and nostalgia as the film itself. In fact it made me desperate to go and watch it again – which is what all good accounts should do. It feels a little bit too lovey at times, and the dismissive way everyone just accepts Robin Wright’s role boosting the male characters despite being the titular character is a little disappointing, but If you like the Princess Bride, this is a must read.

The Humans by Matt Haig IMG_20181015_215007_152

Matt Haig has been a bit of a discovery for me this year. I know he’s been around and doing his thing for ages, but I’ve only  just fallen in love with his style and imagination. The Humans feels like a mix between non-fiction and high fantasy. Ostensibly the story of an alien assassin sent to earth to impersonate a mathematician and remove any and all evidence of his latest groundbreaking discovery (seriously, what’s not to love about that concept?), the tale is actually a study of what makes us human, what connects us and how, given all our apparent cruelty, barbarism and hypocrisies, do we retain our optimism and earn our place in the Universe. It’s a lovely story full of heart in the face of apparent darkness. You will need to be able to suspend your cynicism and allow yourself to be swept along in the story, as Matt Haig’s writing works best on the emotive level.

First Among Sequels, Something Rotten and The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

Somewhat unfairly I am writing a review for all three of these books together as they are all part of the same “Thursday Next” Series, which is suitably intricate so I would recommend starting at the beginning and working your way through. Even then you may find some of the more fantastical mechanics of how the bookworld operates confusing but the rollicking adventure more than makes up for it, and as Fforde points out through his characters “Some people like the technical stuff”.

Thursday Next is a literary detective for the Swindon division of Spec Ops in an alternate world where Dodos, Mammoths and time travel are all prevalent. Not only that but Thursday has discovered the ability to jump in and out of the “bookworld” which consists of any type of writing. Including washing instructions. If you are still with me then this is definitely a series to pick up. I’ve enjoyed them all so far, even the bits I didn’t fully follow. The world building is suitably whimsical and meta that it probably covers no end of narrative sins. Some characters are jarring, but few stick around for long and there’s endless fun to be had with spotting all the literary references.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Mia Warren and her 15 year old daughter Pearl live a nomadic lifestyle, but as they arrive in Shaker Heights they intend to bring that to an end, allowing Pearl to invest in making friends and hopes for the future for the first time. Their arrival however sends ripples throughout the rigid suburban community and particularly the tidy life of their IMG_20181018_183028_411landlady Mrs Richardson.

With a little space from this book I’m now torn. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, and the characters were well drawn. I didn’t spot a lot of the twists and turns or how well some of the sub-plot characters would connect with me and the “little fires” that are lit are absolutely needed to subvert the suppression. But I’m not jumping up and down with excitement about it. I’m glad I read it but I’m not rushing to recommend it to anyone as a must read, although I suspect it would make some people question their life choices.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Laura Miller

I picked this up because I was looking for something with a spooky atmosphere.  I loved the film from the 1960s and along with half the world’s population it seems, I’m currently hiding behind pillows watching the new TV show on Netflix (Which has very little to do with the book except for a few name checks and nods.). Focused on 4 people: 2 women with varying supernatural experiences, a young man who is set to inherit the house and Dr Montague who invites them to stay one summer and see what they can uncover within the supposedly haunted house, the narrative stays pretty close to Eleanor’s viewpoint. It does so so subtly that it is only as the book itself decends into madness alongside Eleanor that you realise how linked you are to her perspective. A nice read with plenty of atmosphere, it feels tame in comparison to even the 1960s film, let alone the current series.

False Lights by K.J. Whittaker

I received this book as part of my book subscription and absolutely would not have chosen this by myself, so going into it with fairly low expectations meant I was pleasantly surprised.  Set in an alternate universe where Napoleon won the battle of waterloo and England is now under occupation by the French, this historical romance novel follows the adventures of Hester Harewood. The daughter of a black sea captain and a disowned aristocrat, she has to avenge the murder of her father, tame her new husband who is suffering from PTSD and save her home, the Duke of Wellington and England itself, all while carrying the weight of society’s haughty disdain fuelled by racism. It’s a pretty heavy load, but luckily she’s a compelling heroine. So why so low on the list? I think because it feels so niche and while I was interested in what happened I don’t think I actually emotionally connected with anyone. For a start I loathed Jack Crowlas and so the fact that Hester was so drawn to him held me back from committing to her totally. If you like historical romance I think you’d love this. If you don’t, maybe steer clear.

The end we start from by Megan Hunter

In the near future London floods catastrophically, resulting in a mass exodus of refugees into the rest of Britain. On the same day, a London woman gives birth to a baby and she and her family have to flee the disaster area, suddenly displaced and lost. The narrative unfolds in short flashes of memory from the mother’s point of view as she tries to not only survive, but create some semblance of a life for her new child. This story was an odd one. I finished it in about 2 hours: I couldn’t put it down but the characters annoyed me so much with their choices, particularly towards the end that I was just left frustrated. It’s an unusual book, and certainly a memorable exploration of the “What if” dystopia scenario but beware feeling an anger that the protagonist is all too willing to forgive a pretty big wrong done to her.

Can you Hear Me? By Elena Varvello

An Italian man reflects on his 16th summer in a sleepy rural town where he started to discover some of life’s pleasures courtesy of his best friend’s mother, while his father spirals into a mental health breakdown that has catastrophic repercussions for his family. I found this to be a tough read, not simply because of the looming foreboding of Elia’s father. His mother suffers horrifically and has her efforts to protect Elia and hold her family together largely ignored. There are secrets hinted at and never revealed and the whole tale ends on a note of despondent acceptance. It was an effective story but I definitely needed something cheerier to read afterwards!

Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell Lurene Haines

Yeah not a fan. The artwork was lovely, Oliver and Dinah were great. The story even had an emotional dimension that I welcome in my superhero stories.  But I have a real problem with how they chose to victimise Dinah without giving her a substantial story (Other than the repercussions of her investigation, her story is mainly conducted off panel) all for a pay off in future comics. Word to the wise, if you have to dedicate a section in your intro as to WHY you feel you had to abuse the female lead then you’re writing your female characters wrong. Moreover Oliver felt like a passenger in his own Green Arrow story. It’s all set up and very little pay off, and in a graphic novel that is considered a classic I expect more.

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Pick of the month: The Guilty Feminist: From our noble goals to our worst hypocrisies by Deborah Frances White

Dud of the month: Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell and Lurene Haines et all