Spooktober Roundup

20191030_172008-scaled-2560.jpg

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 the Lost ones backpregnant 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

Things in Jars
Things in Jars atop a Piano in Lews Castle

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)

20191022_175948.jpgHaving 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.

20191030_121401

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.Captain America

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

Autumn begins with a few good reads – September Round-up

September was an odd month for me (I blame the Autumnal solstice and the darkening nights, cause it couldn’t POSSIBLY be my laziness. Nope. Not that.). The books I managed to read were all generally good and I would recommend them, however I spent far too long persevering with a book which I desperately wanted to like and ended up abandoning after about 2 weeks; and then the rest of the month scrolling the internet instead of reading (this I blame on the whole Sony/Marvel debacle while I not-so-patiently waited for confirmation that they were PLAYING US THE WHOLE TIME. Ahem. Moving on.) So there’s not a lot here, but other than my DNF I’d give any of them a shot!

20191002_215308.jpg

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I am so late to the party on this one, but it has been sat on my TBR pile for months. This is the book that kickstarted me reading again after “it-that-shall-not-be-named” (at the bottom of this list.) and I suspect you already know how powerful and phenomenal it is.

Starr Carter is a typical teenager, studying for exams; navigating changing friendships; hiding boyfriends from parents. But as she and her childhood friend Khalil are driving home from a party one night, tragedy strikes and Khalil is brutally shot dead by a cop in front of her, igniting the racial tensions in the community and forcing Starr to question the prevalent institutional prejudice being aimed at her community. All while she is trying to grieve and come to terms with her own  heartbreak and trauma. Worse still, it’s not the first time Starr has had to witness the death of a friend.20190925_121435

Starr is a girl who straddles two worlds, the one she grew up in where she feels she can be herself, and the one her school sits in, one of opportunity and privilege but where she feels she needs to censure herself in order to fit in. What follows the horrific murder of her friend is a clash of those two worlds, and Starr’s journey to see if she can bring the two versions of herself together in a way that she is comfortable with. It is an astoundingly powerful story and should absolutely be a recommended text for all schools everywhere.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I love love love The Handmaid’s Tale – not the TV show, the book (although I watch the show avidly too). I think it was probably the last book to surprise me. I’d heard of it, but somehow my brain had assumed it was a historical story about a servant. I had no idea what awaited me; how horrifying; how powerful; how plausible a dystopia it contained. And through the horror I fell in love with Offred and Margaret Atwood’s sinisterly powerful writing. The Testaments is NOT the Handmaid’s Tale. It doesn’t contain the creeping horror or the unavoidable dread. But it is exactly what fans of the original 20190920_143823needed 30 years later, in a world skirting scarily close to an oppressive dystopia.

It is a more streamlined look at the world of Gilead, focussing on three separate female voices and experiences of the regime: Agnes who was raised a believer; Daisy who was raised in Canada but whose parents hold secrets close to their chests; and Aunt Lydia. Yes. That one. Each woman’s voice is individual; Daisy is a child of privilege, awakening to some of the global issues around her, Agnes is that of a devout believer and Lydia is…complex and will genuinely keep you guessing until the end. Most importantly in this political climate, it offers hope and shows that individual actions always count for something.

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Betty Widdershins and her sisters live with their sullen grandmother in Poacher’s Pocket; a rowdy, inn on the dreary island of Crowstone.

Desperate for a life of adventure, Betty plans a secret outing with her youngest sister to neighbouring Marshfoot for her 13th birthday, but is mysteriously caught mid-voyage by their Grandmother. Betty is then devasted to discover that all Widdershins’ girls are trapped by an ancient curse and if they ever leave Crowstone, they will die by the following sunrise.

Her grandmother attempts to soften the blow by showing the girls three magical objects which have been passed down through generations: an old bag that transports the bearer wherever they wish to go, a mirror which shows the holder whatever they want to see, and a set of Russian dolls containing the power of invisibility. When Betty tries to use these objects to change their fate, she inadvertently puts her sisters in mortal danger and has 24 hours in which to save them all.

This is a lovely, engaging story led by a brave and likeable heroine.

The Stone of Destiny by Caroline Logan ⭐⭐⭐ (and a half!)

I’m on the blog tour for this one next Monday, so I’ll post a full review then – but it’s ace!

20190904_173734

A School in South Uist: reminiscences of a Hebridean Schoolmaster 1890 – 1913  by F.G. Lea ⭐⭐⭐

This was a bit of a comfort read for me. Although it’s events take place over 100 years ago, the community, people and traditions it so gently describes are alive and well throughout the Hebrides, and defiantly recognisable to any who have experienced the way of life here… except now we have more cars. It’s not a dramatic story, but it is a cosy snapshot of Hebridean life and so would invoke homesickness in ex-pats or give a nice taster for those wanting to know more about the Hebrides. My only complaint is FG Lea spends WAAAYYYY to long talking about sport. Especially fishing.

Kraken by China Melville (uch…DNF)

I wanted to like this one so badly – from the cover (yes, I know, but LOOK at it ! ↓) to the concept (Copper is20190902_131936.jpg thrown into the underground world of Secret London Cuthulu Cults worshipping giant squid) this just looked my bag.

It was my curated book subscription book too, so chosen specifically for me; but at one point I actually googled the history and current stance on Cursive Writing, just because I was so easily distracted. Trying to keep my brain on this story was HARD work and even though I tried for nearly two weeks I only got about 8 chapters in. I couldn’t invest in the characters, I could barely understand what was happening half the time, and while generally I tend to let narratives like that flow over me until it clicks, I just couldn’t make myself care with this one…so apologies if it suddenly gets good 3 pages after I quit but Life’s too short.

 

Pick of the month: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 

Dud of the Month: Kraken by China Melville

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.

toffee.jpg

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

homegoing.jpg

Dud of the Month: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

February Reading Round Up

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

20190225_223319.jpg

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

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

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

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

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

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

Bookshop memories by Patrick Bruskiewich

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

And the Rest is History by Jodi Taylor

An Argumentation of historians by Jodi Taylor

The Long and Short of it by Jodi Taylor

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

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

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

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

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

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

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

 

 

The Librarian by Salley Vickers

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

20190128_195325.jpg

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

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

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

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

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

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

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

 

Pick of the month: When They call you a Terrorist

Dud of the Month: The Book of Joan

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

The Joy of Books

I have recently become obsessed with Marie Kondo (as it seems has everyone else) and recently began working through her recommended processes. For the most part I’ve found that it seems to work for me: taking out everything and only returning the things which provide “joy” is genuinely very cathartic. However I’ve now reached the Books category, and here is where Marie and I part ways. She claims that she keeps 30 books or less (although, granted, she isn’t demanding that everyone else does the same). As a community of book lovers I think we all seem to agree that this makes her some kind of soulless monster and it has seriously damaged her reputation as an innocuous de-cluttering guru.

20190210_144233.jpg

Because here’s the thing: Books are not clutter. They are worlds; adventures; lifetimes full of emotional nourishment. They are tools which help us on our journeys to self-awareness. Besides that, they are just bloody good fun. Every book on my shelves provides joy, so good luck prying any of them out of my hands, but I’m certainly suspicious of someone who only finds joy in 30 books. I mean honestly, I’m decluttering to make room for MORE books!

Saying that, I’m a bibliophile and I can’t resist a book challenge so I’ve decided to play along. Grudgingly. So gun to my head, if I HAD to pick 30 books in hard copy and could no longer have any others (aside from the sneaky kindle which would obviously have all of the removed books stashed away electronically) what would they be?

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

20190210_202355.jpg

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

1984 by George Orwell

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

The Secret Island by Enid Blyton

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Ocean at the end of the lane by Neil Gaiman

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

Just One Damn Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

20190210_202547.jpgThe collected works of Shakespeare (This may seem like a cheat, BUT it is a book that I own. One binding= one book!)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Eric by Terry Pratchett

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Carrie by Stephen King

Matilda by Roald Dahl

I know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett20190210_202224

Which Lie did I tell? By William Goldman

Circe by Madeline Miller

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Buddhism for beginners

Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu

A Million little pieces by James Frey

And

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Is there a large amount of Terry Pratchett on the list? Yes. To be honest you’re lucky the list didn’t just say “Discworld series”. And this was painful, but these are the books that I come back to again and again, or are so beautiful that I’d bite anyone that tried to remove them from my possession. What would be on your list? CAN you narrow it to 30 or do you struggle to make it up to 30? And what do you feel about the idea of decluttering books? Let me know what you think.