Dark Designs – Book Review

Dark Designs by Stefan Petrucha

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.

captain-america.jpgHowever, 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.

What’s really interesting however is that aside from Steve and red skull there is a second good/evil battle going on that you won’t even spot. The real villain of the piece is signposted quite early on, and you’ll see them coming, as you’re meant to, but the real hero of the piece is a genuine surprise which you won’t realise until the epilogue, and in true hero form it’s one which you’ve been underestimating all along.

A good addition to the Marvel novel universe. Not quite as intriguing as the stand alone Thanos title which was released earlier this year, but definitely worth a read.

Thanks to @titanbooks for the review copy in exchange for an honest review. Dark Designs is out tomorrow (15 October 2019)

July Joy – July Reading Round-Up

Homegoing By Yaa Gyasi (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)

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!)

The Bear and the NightingaleIt 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.

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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.The Five

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 (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

monster-she-wrote.jpgI’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 Memoir by 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.

The Bedlam Stacks

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.

Pick of the month: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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Dud of the Month: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Hey June – June Book Round Up

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Stardust by Neil Gaiman  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

For years after reading American Gods I, slightly shamefully, claimed that I wasn’t a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing. I thought that my love of Good Omens must come from Pratchett’s involvement, but in the last 6 months I have (thankfully) been completely disabused of that notion and now I have discovered two new favourite FAVOURITE books: The Ocean at the End of the Lane which I reviewed previously, and Stardust.
Set in the human town of Wall and the contrasting multi-coloured world of Faerie, this is a more intelligent, thoughtful and hypnotic take on the two-world trope made famous by the Wizard of Oz – where you identify with the muted world but you desperately want to stay in the brighter dreamlike land beyond the confines of the story.
Our hero, Tristran Thorn, is a child of two worlds (unbeknown to him), who’s first experience of love sets him on a quest for a fallen star. Along the way, he encounters goblins, unicorns, witches and sentient forests based on Tori Amos, but more importantly he grows into the man he should be and comes to rectify youthful mistakes while maintaining his almost naive optimism.
This is a grown-up fairy tale full of hope and growth and magic, where the very prose makes you feel like you are coated in Stardust. I loved every word.

The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Arika of House Cobane has spent her life identifying as a ‘First Brother’ of Kongo and training to be an elite Record Keeper, perhaps even a senator, for her region. She lives in a society built out of the ashes of old earth following a World War that left most of the planet uninhabitable, and the remains of humanity scraping their survival out of the 20190701_201020.jpgcharred earth. With the survival of the species on the line, the three surviving tribes: The Kongo, Clayskins and English have each accepted responsibility for one facet of continuing life and each race must pull its weight for everyone to survive. Or so Arika believes. In reality the new structure is built as much on oppression and racism as the old world structure was, but obedience is guaranteed through the mirage of equality.

As a child Arika had her streak of rebellion and fight brutally stripped from her ‘for the greater good’, but it simmers beneath and the Record Keeper charts her reawakening as she is forced to confront the truth which she has been sheltered from, including her own privilege and oppression of her own people. It is a challenging, powerful and empowering read, as it becomes clear that the more things change, the more they are kept the same, until we confront our power structures and stand up and enforce change, all while set in a future dystopia that is frighteningly like our current world.

Hope for the Best (the Chronicles of St Mary’s) by Jodi Taylor ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The latest book in one of my favourite book series’, the Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor continues the story of a group of chaotic, beautiful tea loving historians who investigate events in contemporary time (time travel to you and me). Hope for the Best is the 10th book in the series, and continues to follow the adventures of Max, Leon, Matthew and Dr Bairstow among others. 20190611_193927
I love these books, they’re funny, engaging and usually reasonably light (except for book 8 which I’m STILL traumatised by, but begrudgingly accept) and speed through different time periods and adventure sequences. I’m a sucker for time travel stories but I’m ready to be done with Ronan and increasingly the Time Police, who I’ve never quite warmed too after the sudden alternative world flip (and don’t mention their behaviour over Matthew). I am always happy to reread these over and over and over again.

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops By Jen Campbell ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Does what it says on the tin, a collection from Bookshop owners all over the world which gathers together some of the more questionable conversations had with customers or overheard between friends and families. Everyone has moments of ditziness and comes out with something absurd but when they are gathered together in one book it is eye-wateringly funny. I tore through this in about two hours and was wheezing by the end, but it could easily be used as a Dip in and out read.

Green Valley by Louis Greenberg ⭐⭐⭐⭐

After finally reaching it on my TBR pile, I tore through Green Valley in the 24 hours. A very special example of Techno-Terror, a Sci-fi/Horror blend about a future city split between two extremes: A technology drenched walled-in city, Green Valley, where people have chosen to live in a virtual world utopia and their reality is a mystery; and the rest of the country where a total Technology ban exists in order.

After children riddled with nano tech are found dead, the murder investigation leads to Green Valley where Lucie Sterling’s niece, who she only met once before the wall went up, has also gone missing. Louis Greenburg manages to explore humanity’s relationship with technology without ever being preachy – and with a bloody terrifying ram thrown into the mix. It is creepy and intriguing and raises questions about why humanity is so driven to seek out extremes. 20190618_130519

Thanks to @Titanbooks for the review copy. And the nightmares!

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Winner of the International Man Booker Prize 2019: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi is a dense, sprawling, epic, which covers the lives of multiple generations of families, in particular 3 families, in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, in just under 250 pages.

It is poetic, and sometimes difficult to navigate, but completely hypnotic and engaging. It covers the trauma and joy of being a woman in a country undergoing massive cultural shifts, and beautifully illustrates generational differences in culture and expectation.

Confessions of a Bad Mother – The Teenage Years by Stephanie Calman ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A book which will speak to the heart of any parent; Confessions beautifully encapsulates the bittersweet frustration of your children growing up and simultaneously pulling away from you, the dichotomy of pride in their achievements and their ability to overtake you and pain as they make it clear they no longer need you. The book covers a mother’s journey from her children being 7 (yes, some teenage attitudes start this young) to leaving home. Well written and well observed, it’s a good warning for what I’ve got ahead of me! (my eldest has turned 7 and is already displaying some of these tendencies).

Girl in a cage by Jane Yolen ⭐⭐⭐

Girl in a Cage follows the story of 11 year old Marjorie Bruce, Robert the Bruce’s20190617_084756 daughter and future mother of the Stewart dynasty, as she is captured and held hostage by Edward Longshanks during the Scottish wars for Independence. Simultaenously describing the first two weeks of her capture alongside the 8 months leading up to it, where her father took up the crown, resulting in his family having to flee across Scotland as fugitives, this is a story aimed at 8 to 11 year olds.

Over the last couple of years @Cranachanbooks has established a reputation for bringing a human perspective to historical lessons, and rendering them identifiable and interesting to younger readers, and so it is with Girl in a Cage by Jane Yolen Robert Harris (he of Talisman fame). It’s a winning formula, and one that really brings history to life.

The Girl in Red by Christina Henry ⭐⭐⭐

A post-apocalyptic retelling of Red Riding Hood with a dash of The Walking Dead and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road thrown in, albeit with a little more optimism and a prosthetic equipped, mixed-race feminist heroine who suffers no fools. This was an interesting and compelling re-imagining but, for me, there were a few too many elements chucked in the mix without adequate explanation.

I get that Red is just a ‘normal’ citizen and not a ‘chosen one’ who is looking for answers, but when there are genetically created monsters (aliens?), AND an apocalyptic croatoan type sickness creating havoc around the globe at the same time but with no clear or confirmed link then I need a few answers even if she doesn’t. This, combined with a time jump ending, made it feel like Henry had an interesting idea but got bored towards the end and couldn’t find a way to link it all. That being said, Red was a great grumpy heroine and I’ll definitely check out more of Henry’s re-tellings. Thanks to @titanbooks for this preview copy.

Love Nina: Despatches from Family Life by Nina Stibbes ⭐⭐⭐

20190617_084557My Book subscription book this month was something which I would never have picked up, but it was ok. A tame, humourous look at life among the London Literrati in the 80s. Funny and sweet in places, and with some great references and famous playwrights popping up and behaving ‘just like us’ but with more eccentricity. It was a little plodding, just like looking at someone else’s holiday snaps.

This month I did something which I never do. I refused to finish a book (and believe me I’ve read some dross) I do wonder however if it was just me as it has got incredible reviews elsewhere, so if you’re a horror fan don’t take my word for it, but my DNF was Growing Things by Paul Tremblay. An anthology of horror tales, I managed just 3 so can’t speak to the overarching themes. The stories themselves all started promisingly and with intriguing concepts, and then I’d lose what was going on. I didn’t find them creepy (as my husband suggested), just confusing, and given the promise each one held I just found it disappointing.

 

Pick of the Month: Stardust by Neil Gaiman20190627_214651

Dud of the Month: DNF Growing Things by Paul Tremblay

April showers allow reading for hours

April Reading Round-Up

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.

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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 20190411_085121has 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 20190404_152104have 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.

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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.

20190422_163153Introducing 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.

 

 

A Titanic story for young readers

The Titanic Detective Agency – Book Review

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 20190417_172015.jpgpony.

Facing several boring days crossing the Atlantic onboard a ship, she and her new friend, Madge, decide to emulate Holmes and Watson and set up The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency. They quickly stumble across two intriguing mysteries, one involving treasure and another involving a mysterious family with a shady father. 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.

It’s a challenging introduction for its target audience of 8 to 11 year olds. One which focuses on the humanity involved in the maritime tragedy, but it’s all the more worthwhile for this focus, The Titanic Detective Agency doesn’t shy away from the horror and lasting impact the accident had on the few survivors.

It’s well written, engaging and doesn’t talk down to younger readers. More than that it brings a hundred and seven year old tragedy to life. And just look at that cover – it’s beautiful!

 

All My Colors – Review

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.

After all, if no one else can remember the book, then surely it’s his for the taking? And that’s when the weird starts.

IMG_20190416_205803_984All My Colors is the latest novel from the writer of Veep and The Thick of It, 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.

Titan Books is promoting this to fans of Chuck Palahniuck and I can’t think of a more appropriate comparison. 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. Has Todd really witnessed what he thought he witnessed? Is he going mad? Or is something more malevolent at work? And will it all be worth it in the end?

I was provided a copy of All My Colors for a fair and honest review. I’d give it about 3 and a half stars (out of 5). It’s not average, but it’s not shot to the top of my must read lists either.

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

The Life of a Reader in the Outer Hebrides

IMG_0039It’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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFull 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.

thumbnail_20181126_123615So 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 theirGrounds 1.1.14 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!