In the underbelly of 19th century London, the downtrodden and overlooked don’t have the same access to the protections and justice offered to the higher echelons of society. So while Holmes searches out treasure and unravels mysteries worthy of front page news, those living in the slums and sewers have only one recourse open to them – William Arrowood and his hired muscle Norman Barnett.
Living a hand to mouth existence themselves, Arrowood and Barnett are desperate for work, feel the impacts of their vices both financially and mentally and find themselves emotionally raw when it comes to relationships and family.
So when Captain Moon and his daughter come to them with a seemingly straightforward tale of professional rivalry and sabotage, the sleuths for hire jump at the chance to earn some earn and much needed cash. But they are not prepared for the web of murder and revenge in which they find themselves entangled.
Arrowood and the Thames Corpses by Mick Finlay is a mystery thriller for fans of historic crime: it’s no mistake that it’s set in the same universe as Sherlock, but it does offer more depth than any Arthur Conan Doyle tale I’ve read. While I enjoy a Holmes classic, I always get frustrated by the conclusions based on the flimsiest of assumptions, the giant leaps of logic and the thin characterisation. Arrowood fixes all those problems for me.
The puzzle is as complex and maze-like as you would expect, but the route to unravelling it is logical, believable and heartbreakingly tragic in some places. Neither Arrowood nor Barnett are overly likeable, drowning as they are in their self-pity, ego and often brutal manipulations of the surrounding characters, but they are fully realised, flawed men and their breadth of character pulls you into the story and engages you fully.
At times, the wealth of supporting characters can get confusing, especially the burly men and characters whose threads are left hanging. But the stench and poverty of London’s darker side is tanglible and the tragedy of people, particularly children, who are trying to scrape some semblance of a life together in the face of constant fear and danger is particularly well depicted.
Some revelations you will see coming a mile away, but mostly the information is provided on a need to know basis, allowing the story to unfold and most of the reveals to happen as Arrowood and Barnett themselves figure them out.
All in all, a grim, dark but satisfyingly escapist crime mystery.
Arrowood and the Thames Corpses was published on 2 April 2020 and is available now.
Take a dash of Austen social comedy, the trappings of the European aristocracy and the complications of family drama and first love and throw them into a space ship some 200 years in the future and you’ve got the sumptuous romance adventure The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne.
Following a sudden global ice age that renders Earth uninhabitable, the survivors of humanity are orbiting the planet on an ageing and crumbling fleet. Against a backdrop of rising insurgency and depleting resources, the rich and privileged are coming together for their once every four years engagement ritual – the Valg – a month of intense dating events intended to shore up the wealth and power of those at the top of the social hierarchy.
Princess Leo Kolburg us reluctantly taking part in order to save her family’s ailing ship, but love is the last thing on her mind, until her first love and once fiance Elliot Wentworth appears with a new found fortune, a mysterious business venture and a large chip on his shoulder, immediately becoming the most eligible bachelor of the season.
As a romance novel the key thing I look for is the chemistry between the main romantic pairing and Leo and Elliot had it in spades. Elliot is prickly to say the least, and Leo is privileged and ridiculously blind to what’s going on around her. Both of these are recognisable Austen character types (not a surprise as The Stars We Steal takes Persuasion as its narrative template.) But where other books which try to replicate these character tropes end up making their leads unlikeable and irritating, Donne manages too walk that fine line where, despite their flaws, you genuinely root for Leo and Elliot to overcome their differences and misunderstandings and find their way back to each other.
That some side characters and their feelings may be treated as disposable in this journey is too often the case with romance stories; they are there as obstacles after all, but Donne manages to keep this on the right side of palatable with some deft character choices.
What was a little more jarring was the contrast between the archaic social rules, the traditions of yore and the grandiose space elements of sci-fi. Even with character acknowledging this and commenting on the old fashioned-ness of it all, these elements didn’t gel as much as I could have wished for. But I love Austen and I love sci-fi so I was disposed to forgiving this, suspending disbelief and just enjoying the ride.
And it was a pretty enjoyable ride. I cared about the characters, the end was satissfying and the chemistry was tangible. A definite read for fans of romance; think the 100 meets Jane Austen.
Never having read any of the Amir Sisters’ series before, despite being an avid fan of
author Nadyia Hussain’s Bake Off career, I was nervous that I would be playing catch up with this – the third in the series. But I shouldn’t have worried.
Told from the point of view of Mae Amir, the youngest daughter of a large Bengali family The Hopes and Triumphs of the Amir Sisters is a humorous, heartwarming romp through family life as Mae tries to figure out her place in the world and her new position in the family she is tentatively spreading her wings from.
Struggling with loneliness and self-confidence issues Mae finds herself starting to make choices she is not always comfortable with but unable to turn to anyone for support – as she is usually the foundation they lean on – a situation which is no longer tenable as Mae grows up, and yet no one seems to have noticed.
There’s a lot going on in the story, and references made to previous stories, but I never felt lost. Despite being part of an ongoing series, Hopes and Triumphs made an excellent stand alone book (although I am keen to catch up on the rest of the series now) and Mae was a balanced compassionate heroine with an identifiable struggle of feeling overwhelmed with finding her own identity outside of a family of very big personalities.
But despite the apparent lightness of the story it doesn’t shy away from more serious subject matter –racism, unnoticed prejudices, micro-aggressions and the dangers of sexual assault, are all touched on as well as the cultural barriers Mae faces to being allowed to spread her wings and explore the bigger world beyond the Amir households.
It’s a lovely, funny, satisfying story with loveable, fully realised characters and genuine relatable family drama. Can’t wait to read the rest of the series!
Ben and Bella appear to be the perfect couple. Ben is nursing a broken heart after getting out of a long term relationship, and then flirty, sexy Bella pops up in his life and things just seem to click. At least on paper. In reality the red flags start to pop up and Ben finds his life spiralling and his family being torn apart. But it’s just a coincidence. Right?
There are elements of She by HC Warner which really merit a gripping thriller. The complexities of domestic violence committed against men and the hard time people around them have accepting it for instance warranted a more in depth look at the patriarchal constructs that prevent men accessing support and the terror that can arise from unexpected places. But honestly that’s trying to wring something out of what is essentially a competent but ultimately fairly boring thriller.
She is a colour by numbers tale drowning under adjectives and misogynistic clichés. Women are continually compared and pitted against each other. Bella’s psychosis is not really depicted as anything other than over the top vengeance, and despite nearly two thirds of the book being written from a woman’s point of view, the female characters never felt like anything more than 2 dimensional characters fighting over some men. One of whom really wasn’t worth fighting over.
The story is broken into three parts, the first told from Ben’s point of view, and the second a repeat from Bella’s point of view, the third is told from a more omniprescent point of view but at least goes beyond the plot points of the first two chapters. While the shifting viewpoints provides some interest, you’ll likely spot the bulk of the twist coming by the end of the first section and from that point it does get very repetitive, and increasingly desperate to try and throw some sort of scandal in, to the point that it jumps the shark somewhat.
2019 was an ace year for me with regards to books; I began my job as a librarian and began working towards my accreditation; I really committed to my book blogging (athough my commitment took the form of reading during every spare moment, and not perhaps writing about it as much as I should have – think I’m missing a trick here!); and some of the books I read were so phenomenal that they blew past everything I’d read before and completely rearranged my overall top 10. By all accounts it seems to have been a phenomenal year for publishing.
But now here we are: a new decade. Who the hell knows where we’ll be in another 10 years, or even a year. One thing I do know – Books are going to help me get through whatever comes, both personally and globally. Below are some of the books I’m most looking forward to reading in 2020. Some of these I’ve been lucky enough to get an advanced reading of (and so I’ve included the star rating). Some of them I’m just giddily excited about based on and then there’s a section at the end of stuff I’m looking forward to reading which has been around forever but I have added to my 2020 TBR.
What are you desperate to read this year? (Cause I clearly need to add it to my ever-expanding list and groaning shelves!)
Have read; would recommend:
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (5 stars)
12 year old Edward is the sole survivor of a horrific plane crash that took his whole world with it. Dear Edward is a look at both the 6 hours leading up to the plane crashing and the lives aboard it, and the months and years following it as Edward tries to come to terms with what has happened and begin to heal. On him rest the hopes and prayers and desperate grief of the relatives of those killed. It is an emotional read, offering glimpses of the complexity of human lives and optimism in the ability to turn tragedy into hope and the human capacity to overcome horrific events.
Publication Date: 20 February 2020
The Stray Cats of Homs by Eva Nour (5 stars)
Nothing, NOTHING has brought the realities of the Syrian Civil War home to me like this novel, a mostly true, occasionally fictionalised, account of the life and experiences of the author’s partner, ‘Sami’.
Sami is the second youngest son of a loving family. There are a few chapters to begin with which demonstrate the idyllic childhood Sami and his siblings had, infused with the usual family conflicts and jealousies and the occasional formative experience but always with an foreshadowing awareness of “walls having ears”. So the harrowing slide from hopeful revolution to soul-sapping war is especially painful. Sami bears witness to the destruction and errosion of his friends, family, culture, hopes and dreams and the humanity and empathy with which the story is told truly highlights the lack of options that ordinary civilians faced as they were trapped between a rock and a hard place.
There were numerous times during and after reading this where I wept with frustration and pain at the cost this war exacted and continues to do so, and even with glimmers of hope and empathy and Sami’s seemingly nine lives (there are no cats here), the horrors will stay with you long after you finish this. The book takes moments I remember seeing on the news and not fully understanding at the time, and fleshes them out fully with context. An absolute must read.
Publication date: 7 May 2020
The Sky is Mine by Amy Beashel (4 stars)
Izzy and her mum have been living a life of trauma. Her mum’s husband of 9 years, Daniel, was supposed to be their prince charming, and he certainly comes across that way to everyone else. But behind closed doors there’s another story. After years of insidious gaslighting and abuse Izzy and Steph have reached a crossroads; Do they stay and succumb to the numb acceptance of the misogynistic abuse they are subject to from all areas or do they take tentative steps back to themselves and each other.
This is a powerful and emotive tale where the fear and confusion is claustrophobic and leaves you breathless. But it’s balanced out with a healthy dose of optimism. Izzy’s hope is jarred up and shut away, literally, but eventually comes to fill the sky and offer a way forward.
Publication Date: 6 February 2020
What Unbreakable Looks Like by Kate McLaughlin (5 stars)
After a neglectful childhood results in 17 year old Alexa being trafficked by a man she trusted, she grows accustomed to the dark and horrific side of humanity. Then she’s suddenly rescued and has to figure out how to reintegrate back into society and begin the process of healing.
What follows is a heartbreaking, emotional and at times harrowing account of Alexa trying to find a way of living with what she has been through, and had me close to tears at numerous times. But strung though out is a strong sense of hope and positivity for the future. Lex has an incredible support system, which doesn’t soften the trauma she has to come to terms with, but does provide hope for the future.
What Unbreakable Looks Like explores in depth the feelings of a trauma victim, including the numbness, fear and cognitive dissonance as well as touching on different experiences of trauma without ever scaling them against each other – everyone has their demons – and rather than making that a competition between people it leads to greater empathy and understanding of each other.
It was an amazingly compelling read which I devoured in one sitting. A fantastic but emotionally difficult read.
Publication Date: 2 June 2020
Haven’t read but very excited to get hold of them:
False Value (Rivers of London #8) by Ben Aaronovitch Publication Date: 20 February 2020
I have yet to read a Rivers of London book that I haven’t enjoyed (though some do leave me confused with the intricacy of the magical world that has been created.) Very much looking forward to this new one – and the cover is startingly beautiful!
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi Publication Date: 15 September 2020
Yaa Gyasi wrote one of my favourite books that I read last year (although it was published in 2017) Homegoing which was a stunningly accomplished and confident debut so I am almost giddy with excitement to see what she has planned next.
The Midnight Library by Matt HaigPublication Date: September 2020
Matt Haig writes some of the most heartwarming philosophical novels I have ever read; concerned with the warmth of the human condition. His newest will be about someone exploring alternate paths their life could have taken which are laid out in books contained within the Midnight Library. It sounds fantastic and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
The Foundling by Stacey Halls Publication Date: February 2020
In London in 1754 Clara return’s to London’s Foundling Hospital to claim her illegitimate daughter who she left behind 6 years earlier. But her daughter has already been claimed – by her. Who has claimed Clara’s daughter and can she find her? This looks like a wonderful historical mystery that promises atmosphere and intrigue.
The Sight of You by Holly Miller Publication Date: June 2020
If you could see how a relationship would end would you still embark on it? That’s the concept of Holly Miller’s latest novel about a man who has visions of the end of his relationship even as he meets his partner.
Miss Austen by Gill Hornby Publication Date: 23 January 2020
The question of why Cassandra Austen burned a treasure trove of family letters – mostly ones written by her deceased sister Jane – has puzzled academics for centuries. This novel, set in 1840, attempts to unlock some of those secrets and will be a must-read for Austen fans
Plan for the Worst by Jodi Taylor Publication Date: 16 April 2020
More Time Travelling goodness from the historians of St Mary’s. Shenanigans will ensue. This series is an easy read (with some surprisingly emotional moments) and I devour them faster than Jodi Taylor can produce them.
Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
Rose Gold Watts has lived her life convinced by her mother Patty that she is ill. Now she is finally free from her mother’s hold, and of the lies she told about her health. After Rose testifies against Patty for her wrongdoing, she goes to prison for five years. When she is released with nowhere to go, Rose invites her mother into her home as a sign of forgiveness. But secretly, Rose has not forgiven her mother and is ready to seek revenge.
Daisy on the Outer Line by Ross Sayer Publication Date: November 2020
I don’t have a full summary of what this is about, except that is a young adult novel about time travelling scot called Daisy; it’s written in Scots; and it’s written by one of the funniest authors I’ve come across. If you enjoy terrible groan worthy puns; hilarious confusion over turns of phrase and heartwarming characters I’m pretty sure this is going to fulfil your brief!
Previously published; but only just getting to them:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff
Runaways by Fatima Bhutto
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
I’m stuffed on turkey, sleepy after all the excitement of Christmas and ready to try and snooze and eat my way into oblivion over the next couple of weeks of holidays; so of course my thoughts turn to lying under a duvet with books and what to read next. Before I jump into my TBR pile for 2020 though I’m doing the obligatory, ultra-cool, totally-not-overdone round up of my reading year.
This is not a round up of best books which have been published this year; although some of them have been. I can’t even dream of writing that post because I haven’t managed to read everything that’s been published this year (I’m such a slacker.)
Instead this is a list of the best books I’ve read. Some of them are years old and I’m waaay late to the party. Some of them were released this year and as my first flush of enthusiasm fades I may scale back my gushiness. But all of them I’ve raved about to people, bought as presents for people, foisted them on people even as they insist they’re not looking for anything to read (annoying I know. It’s a flaw, but a useful one as a book blogger!) and generally not shut up about. I really would recommend you track these down and give them a shot.
Unlike my usual monthly round ups I’ve not listed these in order of preference but instead tried to group them as genre, and I’ve not critiqued them (you can look back at round-ups if you really want to, but they’re all five stars, high four stars at a stretch). My last caveat is that these are the absolute tops of what I’ve read but I’ve read loads and loads of other excellent stuff, I just couldn’t include it all.
What have been your books of the year? Have you read any of these and did you like them?
When they call you a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Asha Bandele, Angela Y.Davis
The tale of the birth of a movement, When They Call You a Terrorist details the horrifying and very personal account of what led Khan-Cullors to help found the Black Lives Matter movement. From the start it makes it clear why the movement was, and is, so vital and essential for Black People around the world as they campaign to be able to feel safe in their day to day lives. For those of us who have the privilege of not facing this level of aggression and oppression in the smallest of our interactions, and who can call for help without fear of repercussions, this is truly eye opening and terrifying. But shows how that fear was utilised by a group of women who believe a better future for them and their families is possible.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Stepping inside a library for the first time in years, Orlean’s interest was peaked and she began an investigation into the inner life of the Los Angeles Public Library which had suffered a catastrophic fire. Part history lesson, part sociology study, it’s hard to describe how compelling a tale this is. If you thought librarians were society’s heroes before this will just solidify that opinion. And it’ll remind you of the full extent to which a library is a vital part of every community.
Young Adult Fiction
The Burning by Laura Bates
Absolutely everyone who is and ever was and has anything to do with teenagers must read this, a novel which brings the realities and dangers of life growing up with social media into sharp relief. Anna and her mother have escaped from a past to a new school, new job and a new life in rural Scotland. But as Anna tries to rebuild her life and her trust in people, her past is looking to track her down. All the while she is undertaking a project on a young girl, Maggie, who used to live in her house a few hundred years previously and was burned as a witch. The similarities between Maggie and Anna’s persecutions are horribly real, all that’s changed is the methods with which they are enacted.
Sonny and Me by Ross Sayers
Sonny and Daughter are two 15 year old boys trying to survive in their fourth year when their one and only favourite teacher vanishes mysteriously. Of course they can’t let this lie, how will they possibly pass National 5 maths without Miss Baird to help them out? So off the boys set to find out where she is and when she’s coming back. What they discover is a web of gossip, intrigue and murder that they were entirely unprepared for, but handle with wit and a twinkle in their eye. This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long long time and really will have you laughing from page 1, but it’s also full of heart and warmth and kindness.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Star is a teenager from a mostly black neighbourhood who goes to a mostly white private school. As such she feels she is having to live two different lives and regularly switch between two different versions of herself in order to fit in to both her worlds. She begins to question this when for the second time in her life she sees a close friend shot and killed in front of her. This time by the Police. While trying to process her trauma she gets caught up in both the activism from her home town and the subtle and not so subtle racism from her school life, all while trying to come to terms with the duality of her existence. It’s a harrowing read about experiences that far too many children are having to traverse.
Toffee by Sarah Crossman
Toffee is the intergenerational tale of a friendship between a runaway who is emotionally lost; Allison and a woman with dementia; Marla. They are two lost souls who find a home in each other. After Allison is mistaken by Marla as Toffee, she decides to take advantage of that in order to get a warm bed and maybe survive another night. What develops is a friendship that allows Allison to begin to heal and Marla to regain some of the dignity and passion that have been stripped from her. Toffee is written in beautiful lyrical verse and yet contains miles of emotion and some of the best of humanity.
The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes
The Giver of Stars will either be heartwarming or Twee depending on your viewpoint. It follows the story of 5 women who establish and run a horseback library based in remote hills of Kentucky. As well as showing the different acts of heroism stemming from the librarians, it shows them as they navigate their way through small-town politics and dead marriages to find true friendship in each other. It was a real passion project for Moyes based on a photo of the real-life horseback library and I adored it.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Two half sisters who have never met, Effia and Esi, end up leading very different lives, with Effia marrying James Collings the British Governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle and Esi being taken prisoner in the dungeons of the same castle. What follows is an epic sprawling inter-generational tale following the two family lines as the face racism, prejudice and superstition at home and abroad. Each chapter follows a new descendant of the family. It’s heartbreaking and harrowing and captivating and utterly unputdownable.
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
Bridie Devine is a Victorian era detective, interested in figuring out how things work and helping people that most would overlook. Having risen from an Irish Street rat to a doctor’s apprentice and now an independent woman who advocates for the less privileged, Bridie’s reputation is still recovering from her last case. Which is why a Baron with something…fishy to hide feels confident that she’ll keep his case confidential. So Bridie and her 7 foot tall ferocious maid, Cora get drafted in to find Christabel Berwick; a missing child that no one was supposed to know even existed, and who has a little air of Kirstin Dunst’s “butter wouldn’t melt/oh so vicious” character from Interview with a Vampire about her. Oh and Bridie absolutely doesn’t believe in anything inexplainable or supernatural. She DEFINITELY doesn’t believe in ghosts, and definitely isn’t developing feelings for the really handsome half dressed spectre from her past who just so happens to be following her everywhere.
What Jess Kidd has produced here is a book full of warmth, heart and genuinely hilarious quirks.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
800 pages of queens and prophecies and dragons, and secret agents, and love. I have heard many many people say that the size of the book intimidated them, but the story flows so naturally, the characters are so compelling and the adventure so careering that you will never notice the length of this book, and will likely grieve when it does end. It’s phenomenal and does so without having to lean on gratuitous violence or misogyny. Ead and Sabran’s blossoming relationship is one for the ages.
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
Mia was born into a highborn family, with a life of wealth and privilege and a warm and loving family. However her father attempts a failed rebellion, he is summarily executed and her family imprisoned. With the help of her rage and a shadowy familiar named Mr Kindly Mia manages to escape and finds herself seeking out The Red Church, in order to graduate as an elite assassin called a Blade and exact her revenge on those that destroyed her family.
From page one this is engrossing, and brutal and unforgiving and utterly addictive.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Upon returning home for a funeral, the narrator starts to remember strange events which occurred 40 years earlier, including a malevolent spirit and the mysterious girl next door who offers to help him bind it. It’s impossible to describe what follows without giving too much away but it’s haunting and universally awestriking. And weird. But beautiful. This is the book that has ignited m love for Gaiman’s writing.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Vasya is the youngest daughter of a rural Russian Boyar named Pyotr, thought both cursed and gifted. Her birth led to her beloved mother’s death but she also wields extraordinary powers inherited from her maternal grandmother – including the ability to speak to spirits and creatures of folklore. Unfortuantely her stepmother (who shares her gift but believes she sees demons) condemns Vasya as a witch and shuns her and the culture that the creatures of folklore come from. Vasya’s gifts soon draw the attention of greater and more powerful spirits.
It’s a hauntingly beautiful tale based in Russian folklore and exploring Vasya’s journey to discover and accept herself.
The Binding by Bridget Collins
In a world where books are taboo as they are created by binding people’s undesired memories, which are then prayed on and traded by the elite, Emmett and his sister lead a sheltered life in a rural farm. Then one day Emmett is summoned to be a bookbinding apprentice – a profession and world he knows nothing about. Then one day he finds a book with his name on it.
This is a love story. One that is passionate and haunting and terrifying and where Emmett and Lucien have to fight prejudice and members of the powerful elite in order to find happiness.
Circe by Madeline Miller
The epitome of there are two sides to every story, Circe tells the story of a banished Goddess who was a side villain in the Odyssey, but from her point of view. Events play out just as they did in the Odyssey but from a very different perspective which follows Circe from her position at the bottom of the divine social ladder to her own ownership of herself as a person. A beautiful reimagining of a classic which makes it much more accessible and feminist for modern day audiences.
The “I don’t know what to call it” genre
I wanted you to knowby Laura Pearson
If you want an uncontrollable tearjerker this is the one for you. Jess is a single mother who is at the end stages of terminal breast cancer, and her daughter, Edie is still a baby. So Jess sets about writing Edie a series of letters telling her how to love, how to forgive and how to move on. This is juxtaposed with Jess’s goodbyes to everyone around her. It is heartbreaking and powerful and cruel – the very nature of cancer. And completely unforgettable.
My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
A blackly comic look at the depths and limitations of family loyalty between two sisters in Lagos. Ayoola is charming, manipulative and deadly. Korede appears average by comparison but is fiercly protective and obsessively organised. As sisters they have a bond forged in the heat of an abusive childhood and they make a deadly efficient team, but what happens when they set their sights on the same man and can their relationship surivive?
Sal by Mick Kitson
It’s hard to define which genre Sal sits in; it could fit in so many. Sal and her sister have been living in an abusive home where their needs and welfare are neglected at best, and at worst…well: Sal is driven to plan an escape in order to preserve her sister. The story follows Sal and her sister as they find their feet, independence and general freedom in the Scottish wilderness, while also flashing back to the lives they escaped. Despite the circumstances it is hopeful and joyous in places and Sal is a compelling heroine who is determined to overcome the obstacles and lack of choice that were her lot in life.
The Lost Onesby Anita Frank
In 1917 Stella Marchem returns from nursing in the Great War, traumatised and having to come to terms with the horrific loss of her childhood sweetheart and fiancé. Steeped in a deep depression, Stella is given the mission of attending to her lonely and newly pregnant sister, Madeline, who currently lives with her mother-in-law and a handful of servants in an oppressive and chilling country manor. And so off she sets with her maid, Annie Burrows; a young girl who makes everyone around her nervous and who seems to on the knife edge of madness. But Madeline is facing more than simple loneliness; from running footsteps to sudden chills; misplaced items and sobbing in the night.
Is it hormonal hysteria, or is there something more sinister at work?
I don’t know what happened this month. I feel like I must have walked into a timewarp at some point, but I keep checking my list and it IS accurate. Somehow or other I managed to read 21 books (Hands up this is a total humble brag, but I AM genuinely shocked). Given I read FOUR last month and thought that was good going I actually don’t know how I managed this. The only thing I can think is that SO MANY of them were just fantastic that I just couldn’t stop. Anyway, apologies for the length of this – it won’t happen again. Honestly, if you make it through this more power to you! (I might even send you one of the mythical Orange Twirls as a reward!)
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (5 stars)
Mia was born into privilege, and enjoyed the high life until she was 10. Content with her parents, baby brother and beloved cat (who is relevant in the story, I promise!). Then a misplaced coup results in everything being torn from her and her running for her life. 6 years later she is looking to enter the secretive and elite assassins training school to become a Blade and get justice for the wrongs done to her family by the corrupt power structures of ????. The guild is comprised of zealots who excel at what they do, but competition is fierce, and each and every one of the acolytes is a murderer already. Added to that: their training consists of surviving the masters’ multiple attempts to murder them, and this becomes Hogwarts for adults – with swearing, sex and bloody gory murder a plenty.
This book grabbed me from the first line, and I’d ordered the rest of the trilogy before I was halfway through. It’s compelling, brutal and wonderfully written. I cannot express how much I loved it. But it is absolutely definitely NOT for children or young adults. I’ve seen a lot of reviewers really struggle with this and try to fit it into that box, I’m assuming because the protagonist is a teenage girl?
The Lost Ones by Anita Frank (5 stars)
In 1917 Stella Marchem returns from nursing in the Great War, traumatised and having to come to terms with the horrific loss of her childhood sweetheart and fiancé. Steeped in a deep depression, Stella is given the mission of attending to her lonely and newly pregnant sister, Madeline, who currently lives with her mother-in-law and a handful of servants in an oppressive and chilling country manor. And so off she sets with her maid, Annie Burrows; a young girl who makes everyone around her nervous and who seems to on the knife edge of madness. But Madeline is facing more than simple loneliness; from running footsteps to sudden chills; misplaced items and sobbing in the night. Is it hormonal hysteria, or is there something more sinister at work?
Anita Frank has woven together a terrifying and nerve wracking tale which warrants becoming an instant classic of the genre. The first half ratchets up the tension unbearably; I genuinely found myself with goosebumps and nervous to go into unlit rooms, before unravelling its macabre revelations. It creates a tangibly unsettling atmosphere which, even with a satisfying ending, stays with you long after the book closes. This had me gripped from the start to the end and I’ll be recommending it to everyone for some time to come.
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd (5 stars)
So having 4 5 star reviews in one month makes it look like I hand them out Willy Nilly, but I promise I don’t! I just read a lot of good stuff this month! But also somehow or other I’ve read 3 mermaid or “people of the sea” stories this year. It’s not a genre I specifically seek out, but I guess coincidences happen. After the first two: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock and Pisces, I decided that maybe I just didn’t like mermaid stories, cause I HATED those two. (To be fair they both contained some pretty atrocious sex scenes and a lot of very unlikeable characters.) Then along came Things in Jars to prove me wrong.
Bridie Devine is a Victorian era detective, interested in figuring out how things work and
helping people that most would overlook. Having risen from an Irish Street rat to a doctor’s apprentice and now an independent woman who advocates for the less privileged, Bridie’s reputation is still recovering from her last case. Which is why a Baron with something…fishy to hide feels confident that she’ll keep his case confidential. So Bridie and her 7 foot tall ferocious maid, Cora get drafted in to find Christabel Berwick; a missing child that no one was supposed to know even existed, and who has a little something of Kirstin Dunst’s “butter wouldn’t melt/oh so vicious” character from Interview with a Vampire about her. Oh and Bridie absolutely doesn’t believe in anything inexplainable or supernatural. She DEFINITELY doesn’t believe in ghosts, and definitely isn’t developing feelings for the really handsome half dressed spectre from her past who just so happens to be following her everywhere.
What Jess Kidd has produced here is a book full of warmth, heart and genuinely hilarious quirks. It’s a Victorian detective story, but with a folklore twist and loveable characters. So loveable that I found myself digging my heels in as I neared the ending (which fair warning, is inevitably bittersweet) and desperate for the ability to spend more time with Bridie and Cora. The fact that these characters aren’t in a series is a travesty and if I’m ever fortunate enough to meet Kidd I’ll be on my knees begging for more of them.
Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (4 stars)
I, along with every other millennial out there, am utterly obsessed with Fleabag. It’s captured a zeitgeist that is hard to explain. It is whip-smart, dark and oh so identifiable. So I loved reading the original version which has most of the elements of Season 1 and demonstrates one of the earlier evolutions of the show that stole everyone’s heart. This edition also collated memories of the stage show from the cast and crew.
The Institute by Stephen King (4 stars)
12 year old Luke has displayed minor skills in Telekinesis. Not even powerful to alert himself to his skills, he has been spotted by the Institute, a shady organisation in Maine who captures children with special talents and puts them to nefarious use. Meanwhile in Small town South Carolina, an ex-cop from Florida is starting a new life with the Sheriff’s department.
It’s very hard to go into the intricacies of this book without giving too much away, but as always King is a master story weaver, walking that fine line of compelling and making the unbelievable believable. If you’re a King fan I think you’ll enjoy this one. If not, start with Carrie and you will be!
Rivers of London: Black mould by Ben Aaronovitch (4 stars)
The Rivers of London book series is one of my Go To fantasy series’. Full confession, I don’t always fully understand what’s going on, particularly with whatever mystical revelation happens towards the end, and I’m totally lost from one book to the next about where things stand with Lesley May (not sure why this flummoxes me, it’s usually stated pretty clearly.) But this confusion is where I found the Graphic Novel really came into its own. Black Mould is a standalone orginal graphic novel story that sees Peter and Guleed have to fight both sentient fungus and slum landlords as Peter continues his training with The Folly, the super secret supernatural branch of the Met Police.
It’s a simple enough story, but seeing the characters and humour that I love in illustration really expanded my understanding of the series as a whole. I’ll definitely be seeking out the other graphic novels.
Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove (4 stars)
Having been approached in a coffee shop by Eve Allerthorpe, eldest daughter of a wealthy and entirely batshit crazy Yorkshire family who live in a gothic black castle in the middle of a lake, Holmes and Watson are engaged to investigate the mysterious myth of the Black Thurrick; an evil side kick to Father Christmas who likes to leave bunches of birch sticks around and snack on naughty children.
Eve’s sudden interest in the myth is, in large, thanks to some weird goings on and supernatural sightings around her creepy and not at all cosy home. Of course she’s due a substantial inheritance on her 21st birthday on Christmas Eve, on one condition; that she has managed to retain control of her mental faculties by then. But while investigating out of curiosity a far more serious crime occurs almost in front of Holmes and Watson. So has local folklore come to life or is someone trying to drive Eve mad? Who would dare try and pull the wool over Holmes and Watson’s eyes? And can the grumpiest and most eccentric family in England make it through a holiday season in one piece?
This is a highly entertaining and enjoyably ludicrous tale. Holme’s eccentricity and Watson’s sarcasm are set off perfectly by being surrounded by like-minded and similarly oddball members of the upper classes. There a moments of slapstick and exquisite arguments of the absurd where Holmes again proves his ability to always be right is pure luck, but is nothing compared to his unparalleled confidence in himself. And beneath it all the story is beautifully written and imagined. A truly enjoyable festive mystery.
Safe House by Jo Jakeman (4 stars)
Charlie Miller is a woman on the run from her past. She’s just been released from prison for perverting the course of justice, but is also having to come to terms with her own guilt and abuse at the hands of ex-boyfriend and serial killer Lee. With few ties to her old life and hankering after a new start, she flees to Cornwall, intending to keep her head down and try and acclimatise to her new freedom and self-awareness, but she’s being hunted by multiple people. Can she really just start anew?
Thrillers are brain popcorn for me, I read them as a palate cleanser; a mini puzzle where I try and figure out the twists and turns as soon as possible. Usually the foreshadowing is pretty obvious but not with Safe House. This genuinely kept me second guessing myself until the end, and even when I did just about figure it out (About a chapter and a half before the reveal, but I wasn’t certain) it still managed to throw a twist at me that I REALLY didn’t see coming. (It’s fairly minor, but I appreciated the surprise).
Charlie is a likeable character who made catastrophic mistakes.. She was a victim herself, but is having to find the balance of accepting her own vulnerabilities, complicity and abuse. There was the odd scene, particularly towards the end which felt like it was written with cinematic dreams in mind and ignore the prologue which feels much clumsier than the rest of the book, this is a well drawn, subtle character driven story with edge of the seat tension and jeopardy.
Tam O Shanter by Robert Burns, adapted by Richmond Clements (4 Stars)
From Cranachan Books comes this new vibrant Manga rendering of the classic Burns poem Tam O’Shanter. I always struggled with the depth of the Scots Language in Tam O Shanter, but this rendition really does bring it too life and is chock full of atmosphere. A good Scottish Autumnal tale for a creepy Halloween. Highly recommended.
My Name is Monster by Katie Hale (3 stars)
Monster has survived the apocalypse deep in the Arctic Seed vault, miles from home. Emerging weeks later, she must make her world through a totally changed and deserted world and find a new home, but she’s not entirely alone. In an unnamed city she discovers a child who she takes under her wing, naming her Monster and renaming herself Mother.
This is a strange slow burner of a book, showing the fears and hopes of motherhood spliced alongside a child’s need to become their own person and make their own way in the world. It is beautiful but dark.
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (3 Stars)
Two ageing Irish gangsters have staked out the Gibraltar ferry port, searching for Dilly, a daughter that hasn’t been seen in 3 years. What follows reads in part like an atmospheric one act play and in part like a painful flashback to the drug glory days of the 90s when Charlie and Maurice were making names for themselves.
It’s an interesting book that is absolutely not for everyone – it’s written very stylistically – but contains lifetimes of pain and love while two Irish fuckups try to figure out what the hell life is about. Their conversations are hilarious, but spin on a dime and turn dangerous with breathtaking speed. Their entire beings are wrought through with violence and pathos as they reflect back on the mistakes they’ve made and the hurt they’ve caused over the decades. Drugs and uncontrollable urges abound, and yet despite the fact that they have been horrible people who have committed unforgiveable crimes, Maurice and Charlie are pretty likeable; in part because they own up to their mistakes (even if it is too late), and in part because of the fondness with which Dilly views them. Safely. From a distance.
Duckett & Dyer: Dicks for Hire by G.M Nair (3 stars)
Michael Duckett and Stephanie Dyer are chalk and cheese but have been friends forever. She’s chaotic and he’s Type A. But just as their friendship if falling apart they mysteriously get dragged into a manic adventure to save the multiverse.
This is the first book in a new series which relies a little too heavily on stereotypes but offers a tantalising glimpse of a promising new sci-fi/humour series. I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel when it arrives.
The Aunt who Wouldn’t Die by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay (3 stars)
Lyrical prose succinctly captures three very different women in a Bengali family struggling to navigate the social conventions expected of them: a young modern woman who wants nothing to do with marriage and feels she has to duck, dive and lie to retain her independence, a shrewd young bride who carefully “manages” her new husband and family towards success from a position of supposedly happy meekness (although there is burning passion present too, which eventually takes over), and a righteously furious ghost of an elderly aunt who taunts and goads her family with scathing rants, pushing them via sneering insults and death threats to achieve more than she was allowed too. A quick read but containing massive riches (and some hidden treasure).
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (3 stars)
This was a brutal read. Written as a lilting stream of consciousness from the point of view of Sylvie, an abused and brainwashed 17 year old girl on a summer “study” retreat with her psychopathic father who is obsessed with the Iron age; her institutionalised mother and an archaeological study group. Sylvie knows not to enrage her father, and knows to hide his physical abuse from prying eyes, but also takes it as normal that she is whipped black and blue based on his whims. The Horror that unfolds as her father and the professor explore their obsessions with the past and the Britishness of the Iron Age feels like sliding uncontrollably and inevitably towards a cliff edge, but the tension is built with poetical intensity.
The Guardians by John Grisham (3 stars)
John Grisham deserves his reputation as a crime writer. Normally I loathe present tense writing as it often smacks of immaturity, so my heart sank when I saw that’s what this was, but within the first few pages I was gripped as Grisham wove his typically tight, tense and compelling narrative.
The Guardians of the title are pro bono legal sharks who pursue exonerations for the wrongfully convicted, and this novel, some of which is sadly based on true cases, looks at two particularly intricate cases. The characters are interesting and sympathetic, the plot is believable yet also insane and the tension is palable . Indubitably readable.
Captain America Dark Designs by Stefan Petrucha (3 stars)
It’s 2005 and Captain America has finally gotten some semblance of a life back, but following routine tests after a mission, it’s discovered that within his body Cap carries an extinction level virus. Why it’s not currently active, and what might trigger it is anyone’s guess, but to protect humanity Rogers has to head back to the deep freeze until a cure can be found.
However, old nemesis Red Skull is back, in a body cloned from Captain America himself, so he also carries the virus, except that he has become symptomatic. Knowing the end is insight, and without the selfless gene that is sending Rogers into cryogenic sleep, Red Skull sets about fulfilling his bucket list; specifically ending Captain America, with the aid of some hidden old Nazi Tech. Can Rogers fight off giant killer Nazi robots and a psychopathic enemy with a bug that makes Ebola look like a cold all while he’s technically in quarantine?
What follows is a rollicking good adventure which explores the extremes of Steve’s moral code, and what sets him apart from other heroes. Philosophical questions are thrown into the mix like challenges which Steve side steps with ease.
The Silent House by Nell Pattison (3 stars)
Waking up to their worst nightmare, the Hunter Family discover one of their children was murdered in the night. But they are deaf and heard nothing. Paige Northwood is called in as an interpreter, but being part of the Deaf Community herself her interest quickly becomes much more personal and her investigations lead her to a dark place.
Despite the promising concept this is a pretty run of the mill thriller, with red herrings a plenty and a so so conclusion. Worth a read, but doesn’t fulfil the promise it makes.
The Extinction trials by SM Wilson (The Extinction Trials: 3 stars Exile, 2 Stars, Rebel 2 Stars)
Stormchaser Knux accidentally finds herself taking part in trials to become a finalist to go to Piloria in search of food, resources and a way of survival. Piloria, as opposed to Earthasia, Storm’s home continent which is struggling to sustain its population, is the dinosaur continent across the sea. Thus Storm and a hodge podge band of comrades and a cardboard cut-out villain find themselves shipped off to face the living fossils.
I’m not totally sure why I kept reading these, honestly I’m exhausted just writing the summary, remembering how they were executed. Maybe it’s cause I grabbed them at the Library and they were easy reads, but good grief they were not good. The blurby bit describes them as The Hunger Games meets Jurassic World. Maybe in Ambition; it’s a good summation of what the series tries to do, but absolutely not in execution. It’s one dimensional, predictable, tries to be gory and edgy but really isn’t and the exposition; oh god the exposition is endless, clumsy and repetitive. Yet I read them all. And Quickly. I’m not sure why.
Of course I’m not the target audience for these. It says 13 + (Nope) but I try and put myself in my 7 year old’s shoes and I think he’d just have got bored, especially compared to the quality of some of the stuff he’s been reading. However, given that I tore through them I don’t feel I can warn you off despite not wanting to recommend them. (Look at my expert level of fence sitting!). Make your own minds up, but good luck!
Everything you Ever Wanted By Luiza Sauma (2 stars)
Oh Boy was this a disappointment.
Stuck in an overpopulated rat race Iris is struggling with depression and feeling her life is meaningless, when she gets the opportunity to be part of a lead colony on Nyx, a new planet on the other side of the galaxy which offers a new start and open space. The catch is it’s a one way ticket. The concept had so much promise but was a massive disappointment. It raises questions about Depression and the society we’re living in. Is the grass really greener on the other side? The answer will be obvious from the start, but it felt like a mystery was set up that never really paid off, the characters were one dimensional and their motivation never particularly compelling. Definitely NOT everything that I wanted.
Pick of the Month: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
Dud of the Month: Everything you Ever Wanted by Luiza Sauma