I have to open this review with a massive – MAHOOSIVE – apology. I was on the blog tour for this book a couple of weeks ago and was kindly sent a copy to review and was preparing to begin it and then Boom. The world went to shit, and my brain very quickly followed.
There has been bags of discussion online about the effects of anxiety and what impact the “new normal” (god I hate that phrase, almost as much as I’ve come to hate the word ‘unprecedented’) has on mental health so I’m not going to get into it as I’m sure you’re all trying to manage your own stuff – you don’t need to manage mine too! But, needless to say, reading has not been going well for me the last few weeks.
All those caveats out of the way; we can get down to business and the reason you are here – a better-late-than-never review of the beautiful and glorious Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa.
First thing’s first. Night of the Dragon is the final part of the Shadow of the Fox trilogy, so you are likely in one of two camps: You’ve read the first two and been waiting on tender hooks for the conclusion or you’ve not touched the series. In which case GET ON IT.
The Shadow of the Fox trilogy concerns itself with a young half Yokai named Yumeko who inadvertently and tragically finds herself as the protector of the infamous Dragon Scroll – an ancient and mysterious prayer which can summon the Great Immortal Dragon once every 1000 years for a single, world changing wish. Along the way her kindness and innocence attract a band of loyal followers, Okame the disgraced Ronin, Daisuke the minor Royal and expert swordsman, Reika the stern Shrine Attendant and Tatsumi, the brooding half-demon assassin who is tasked with finding the scroll for his own clan’s use.
In the enthralling conclusion, Night of the Dragon, Yumeko and her rag tag group must journey to the territory of the mysterious and illusive Moon clan and stop the Master of Demons from summoning evil and darkness into the world. What they don’t know is that the Master of Demons is not their greatest threat and that there is an even more sinister game at play. One they are not prepared for.
The Story of Yumeko and her friends has kept me gripped from start to finish. Essentially a road trip novel through the sprawling hypnotic land of Iwagoto, the mythology that is built and obstacles that are faced are perfect escapism into a captivating world of fantasy. Yumeko’s naivety is at times a little grating, but never enough to turn you off the story. And this conclusion proves that no one is safe and earns more than a few tears as it ratchets up the consequences of the epic power struggle.
This is a sprawling beautiful, exciting tale with engaging characters and a genuine sense of jeopardy as the heroes fight to prevent their world literally turning into hell. But definitely start with the first one. There is so much depth to this story, it would be a shame to miss any of it.
I suck at languages. My memory is awful so I can never remember vocab for any length of time. Ask me to tell you my favourite joke and I literally go blank. So as a kid I decided that rather than picking a useful live language that I was guaranteed to fail at I was going to spend 6 years at school studying Latin. This did two things: – it allowed me to have a dictionary (more of a blow by blow word list) in exams and it made me completely and utterly obsessed with ancient Rome.
To this day I couldn’t translate any Latin for you (except to tell you that Canis is dog!) but I am still completely obsessed with the ancient Roman period, so Echo Cycle by Pa
trick Edwards was exactly my bag.
In the near future (2050) Winston Monk is on one of the last trips permitted to travel abroad as Britain becomes ever more isolationist. He is hoping to make his escape more permanent before Britain shuts it’s borders for good, but he receives devastating news causing him to go on an epic bender taking out his class bullies while he’s at it.
Then while nursing his hangover and trying to build up the courage to face the consequences of his actions, something insane happens: Monk falls through a time rip, landing him in the Ancient Rome he has long obsessed over. But no matter his knowledge and instinct for survival he is a fish out of water in a brutal and unforgiving time.
Jump forward 20 years to 2070 and Monk’s only friend from school, Banks, has made it back to Rome as part of a diplomatic mission tentatively feeling out the possibilities for reopening the borders. While beginning to question the choices that Britain has made he bumps into a vagrant bearing an uncanny resemblance to the friend who disappeared 20 years earlier and with a wild and improbable story to tell involving slaves, gladiators and ancient magic.
There is so so much going on in this book that I was worried it would be too much. There’s futuristic utopias and dystopias; a heavy handed post Brexit political critique; time travel; Ancient classics; history lessons; magical realism; power mad villains; strong LGBTQIA representation; political rhetoric on refugees and environmentalism and echoes of ancient legends as well as a couple of main characters that should rightly be unlikeable. Monk is fairly arrogant and well satisfied with himself, and Banks is a drippy middle aged man who’s self-pity is not the most attractive quality…and yet: all these things are blended and swirled together so beautifully and expertly that what emerges is a mad-cap insane belter of an adventure that sweeps you along from the first page and which you are never entirely sure where it’s going to land or what’s going to happen next – even with only 20 pages to go.
Monk’s arrogance gives just enough leeway to make him a possible unreliable narrator – causing enough uncertainty that you are never sure if his crazy story is possible or if he’s, as Banks comes to believe, delusional; but it also gives him enough force to make his story compelling and possible.
Banks’ limp and apologetic presentation and transformation under the gentle encouragement of foreign nationals serves as an allegory for Britain itself as it begins to look more outward after a dark period of stubborn denial of its own flaws.
And Sporus is…cruel and loyal and mad and ethereal and completely and utterly captivating.
Echo Cycle is insane, and it’s not going to be for everyone (If you believe that Britain and America are beyond reproach and are absolutely making the right decisions at the moment, this book is not for you.). But it’s a beautiful mix of Blade Runner meets Gladiator and a ridiculously enjoyable ride.
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!
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
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 the abuse she suffered 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 her new start is haunted by her past mistakes and it quickly becomes apparent that Charlie is being hunted by multiple people. Can she really just start anew?
I grew up obsessively watching Columbo films at weekends. I used to play a game where I would switch on the film 20 minutes in so that I missed the murder and then see how many seconds it took me to go “They did it”. As an adult, obviously this is hardly a challenge – it’s whoever Columbo insists on sharing the screen with in every scene – but as a kid I loved playing detective and that feeling has never really gone away. I love trying to solve the puzzle.
But 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 and I loved it for that. This genuinely kept me second guessing myself until the last page, and even when I did just about figure it out (about a chapter before the reveal, but I was never 100% certain) Jakeman 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 an identifiable 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 ensuring a complex and well-rounded heroine. I enjoyed that as she re-built her new run down home she began to recover herself and a semblance of a life, but more than that I loved the empathy and kindness she showed to the people around her who she initially had no intention of engaging with. Her relationship with the elderly man next door was one of the highlights for me.
There was the odd scene, particularly towards the end, which felt like it was written with cinematic rendering in mind (It strongly reminded me of Julia Robert’s ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’ which is no bad thing!) and I stumbled with the prologue which is driven by a character who is nowhere near as likeable as Charlie but he’s quickly relegated to the background.
But these are quibbles; this is a well-drawn, subtle, character-driven story with edge of the seat tension and jeopardy. The thriller elements; the paranoia of the prey and the twisted view point of the hunter, are ratcheted up so expertly and in such clever increments that the you can feel the tightening claustrophobia make your heart race.
A really top-notch thriller, and one that I’d definitely recommend.
I received a preview copy of Safe House in exchange for an honest review, but it’s out today (31st October) and the Publisher has confirmed that it is going to be available on Amazon Kindle for 99p throughout November – definitely one to add to your TBR pile.
Ailsa is a 19 year old Hermit. Living a life of self-imposed isolation in a beach cave 5 years after her mother died, Ailsa has come to terms with her loneliness and convinced herself that she’s happy. Then she saves two selkies from ravagers and her life is flip turned upside down leading her to discover more about her own history.
In a world where Fae run rampant and the imprisonment of the evil faerie queen Nicnevan is perilous at best, Ailsa finds herself thrown into a quest to secure the throne for the royal family and protect her new friends from the powers that want to destroy them.
Logan has created a wonderful fantasy world, heavily influenced by Scottish Culture – kilts, bagpipes and thick Scottish accents abound, the Selkies themselves are named after Scottish Islands which don’t exist in this realm – and an engagingly grumpy heroine whose heavily foreshadowed destiny is much greater than she’s initially willing to accept.
There are a couple of minor problems, such as a relatively confusing backstory timeline that seems to give different time stamps every time it’s brought up and Harris, the younger of the two selkies that Ailsa rescues. His arrogance is more irritating that endearing, however there are enough hints that Harris’ main problem is immaturity that I’m hopeful he will grow out of his less likeable character traits and vindicate Ailsa’s faith in him.
But these are quibbles, and there are many many joys in this tale. The themes of family, both blood and found, which run through this are wonderful; there are themes of mental health and trauma; bullying and superstition and things not always being what they seem – be that monsters or people’s intentions. Groundwork is laid for what promises to be an epic multi-part tale. There are intriguing hints that Nicnevan may not be entirely bad, but rather wronged and misunderstood and perhaps even empathetic – I’m thinking Angelina Jolie’s Maleficient.
The initial characterisation and scene setting is sedate and then about half way through the story picks up a headspinning pace and revelations come thick and fast. Certainly enough is laid out to keep you excited for the next instalment and see what’s next for Ailsa. A real joy of a new Fantasy series. (AND IT HAS A MAP…and I LOVE MAPS!)
Thanks to Cranachan Books for letting me review this as part of their Blog Tour, and thanks to Caroline Logan for writing it!
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!
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.
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 needed 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!
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 is 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
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is a phenomenal debut that was released in 2016 and promptly (and rightly) won all the awards. It is heart-rending; powerful and harrowing. It follows the stories of two branches of a family tree descended from half-sisters on the Gold Coast during the height of the slave-trade. Through twists of fate and misfortune, one half of the family ends up being sold into slavery, while the other become slavers; selling prisoners from warfare to the white men who have set up at Cape Coast Castle and reaping the power that comes with it. What follows is an unrelenting and breath-taking examination, across eight generations and 300 years, of the wounds and scars inflicted by slavery; the families torn apart and the crimes of humanity committed against entire nations.
I cannot recommend this book enough. Each character only has a chapter, and yet is drawn so fully and written so empathetically that your heart will break anew with each story. As you are pulled from some characters – never knowing their final fate as their family and children never knew, or getting fleeting glimpses and hints – only a smidgen of the horror; the unanswered questions and ruined lives is understood, but it’s enough. Enough to make this a true classic that lays bare the institutions of racism and power which were created and are still maintained today all while telling a compelling story through glorious writing. I cannot wait for Gyasi’s next book due next year.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Arden has also created a debut novel which completely bowled me over. The Bear and the Nightingale is the first in a trilogy which was completed this year (and thank God there’s two more because I can’t wait to get my hands on them!)
It tells the story of Vasya, the youngest child of Pyotr Vladimirovich, the lord of a remote Russian Village and his bewitching wife Marina Ivanovna. As Vasya grows she finds friends among the spirits and imps of the forest, and captures the attention of Morozko, the Frost Demon. Not knowing that she has the Sight, her family mistakenly try to protect her from Morozko, completely misunderstanding his intentions and underestimating Vasya’s abilities and resourcefulness.
This a hauntingly beautiful fairytale with layers upon layers of ethereal Russian folklore built in. Fairytale folk and demons vie for attention, but as always the true horrors and mistakes are committed by misguided people only faintly understanding the world around them. Vasya is a compelling heroine who loves her family deeply, but knows her own mind and I’m excited to see her grow into her powers and confidence in the sequels.
Toffee by Sarah Crossan (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐)
This is marketed as a young adult book and as with all good modern young adult books it doesn’t shy away from the darkness experienced by teenagers, but does so with such humour and heart that it’s impossible not to read in a single sitting.
Written in poetry, Toffee tells the story of a young runaway who is escaping an abusive father. She comes across Marla, an elderly woman with dementia and the two form an unlikely and poignant friendship which, just maybe, saves them both. Written with a lyrical brevity there is not a single superfluous word and yet emotion drips from every page. Here are two women that society deems invisible and abusable, but in each other they find their dignity and confidence; their sense of fun and adventure and the ability to heal from past trauma. Crossan shows how vital kindness can be, the mistakes people can make as they try to find their way, and that there is always hope, even in places that initially appear unlikely.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Hallie Rubenhold has been getting a ridiculous amount of flack for this examination of the women murdered by Jack the Ripper in 1888.
In the 131 years since the five canonical victims of one of England’s most famous serial killers met their tragic demise, their deaths have been sensationalised, their lives dismissed and their murderer glorified and turned into a grizzly tourist attraction. Rubenhold’s self-proclaimed aim with The Five is to give Polly, Elizabeth, Mary Jane, Kate and Annie back their voices, their dignity and their humanity and remind people that these women were not footnotes to the Jack the Ripper myth, but women who led full and complicated lives; who were murdered as a horrific act of misogyny and who continue to be demonised by that same misogyny.
What she has created is 5 compelling tales of tragedy, desperation and survival. She takes the known facts of the women and filters them through the prism of experiences of women in Victorian Times. In doing so she creates narratives, which, yes, at times are based on guess work and gap filling, but completely achieve Rubenhold’s aims of making these women real, identifiable and sympathetic, and remind us to revel a little less in their tragedy. Critics of the book are blinkered in their furor that Rubenhold refuses to categorise the women as prostitutes. They are angrily dismissing the depth and humanity of her study and the fact that she has produced the most detailed examination of the victims to date. Ironically, by doing so, these critics go a long way to prove her point: that people are much more comfortable with the gruesome tale and its lack of closure if they can dismiss the victims as somehow “deserving” of their fate. Critics are missing the point: It doesn’t MATTER if they were prostitutes (although there does appear to be a ridiculous lack of evidence to support that they were, and the police investigation looks fatally flawed by insisting on such). First and foremost they were women, who had families and friends and deserve acknowledgement for their lives and not their deaths, as such, don’t expect any detail of their deaths, or circumspection on the identity of Jack – this isn’t about him.
An interesting read for a new perspective on a well known tale.
Horror, she Wrote by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R Anderson(⭐⭐⭐⭐)
I’ve read a lot more non-fiction this month that usual (i.e….Two) but I’ve enjoyed both. I was provided with a review copy of Horror, She Wrote in advance of it’s release on 17 September.
Sometimes these book list books can be dry, but not so this one. Written in a chatty and interesting way, Horror, She Wrote looks at the epic list of female writers of Horror, Fantasy and Weird Fiction and their continuing influence on the shaping of these genres.
Kroger and Anderson are so breathlessly excited by the wealth and breadth of horror and supernatural female writers that it’s impossible not to get caught up in their enthusiasm. As well as learning loads, my TBR pile expanded exponentially – in main thanks to the Reading List summaries after each author. I actually had to read it with a notepad next to me, to make sure I didn’t miss anything – but it never once felt like homework! This was a genre that I’ve probably explored the least, and after reading this I can’t wait to get started.
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoirby Lady Trent by Marie Brennan (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Since I started in my Library in January I’ve had my eye on this book (and may have added it to a few too many book displays!) – anything with a dragon on the front was going to get my attention.
Now Historical Fiction is not my favourite – despite the ridiculous amount I seem to have read over the last year – but I enjoyed this. Written from the point of view of Lady Trent, elderly dragon expert, who has finally sat down to write her memoirs, it’s funny, warm and reads like a good solid adventure mystery story…with added dragons. This is the first in a series and as such focuses on Lady Trent’s formative years as a rebellious tomboy yearning for more out of the life than the Victorian style (it’s not set in our universe, but has similar periods) and her first adventure abroad to see Dragons in the flesh. Lady Trent is an interesting heroine, and it’s a chatty and compelling adventure. I’ll definitely be picking up the next one in the series.
The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
Merrick Tremayne is a once vivacious adventurer who, following an accident has turned into a recluse, living at home with his reviled brother in a house that is falling down around him. But one last adventure calls – a mission to a village in Peru with a family connection, a healthy dose of fantastical secrets and a friendship (not convinced it’s not true love, but it’s never explicitly stated that Tremayne and the Priest love each other) for the ages.
With plenty of supernatural mysteries and historical adventure into interior Peru this was a magical read with plenty of original ideas and just enough jeopardy to really care about the outcome.
Why Mummy doesn’t give a ****! By Gil Sims (⭐⭐⭐)
Ellen is back in the third instalment of a woman just trying to survive family life with two children, a terribly misogynistic husband and a beloved and judgemental dog called…Judgy.
In Why Mummy Doesn’t Give a ****! Ellen faces her last straw and finally leaves Simon. What follows is her first year of singledom, navigating life as a single parent to two children, finding a new balance with her ex-husband and re-discovering herself and it’s wonderful. A fun empowering exploration of the frustrations of being a family matriarch and being expected to hold everything together when you can barely remember your own name. Not challenging, but identifiable and heart-warming.
I Owe you One by Sophie Kinsella (⭐⭐⭐)
I needed some light reads this month and I have to confess I love a Sophie Kinsella book. They are uncomplicated, generally unoffensive, pretty much guaranteed a fluffy happy ending and often pretty funny and I Owe You One was another prime example.
They’re pretty forgettable, but if you’re looking for a romance story with a fairly ditzy but generally likeable middle class woman at the centre these are the ones for you. Popcorn for the brain and I’m guaranteed to read every. Single. One.
Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James (⭐⭐⭐⭐)
This is an odd one, because for level of world building, writing style and originality this is absolutely a four if not five star book. The story itself is phenomenal as well and stays with you. But it’s hard work to access that story and that impacted seriously on my enjoyment – a bit like Lord of the Rings -it’s incredibly dense and epic.
This is a hallucinatory high concept fable of Tracker, a lone wolf who finds himself working with a bunch of mercenaries to find a lost child, and facing down witches and vampires and shapeshifters in the process. Who is the child and Who can be trusted?
At times it’s hard to tell what’s going on, which adds to the drug hazed vibe and the confusion that Tracker faces, but even when he’s figuring things out I always felt lost. It took me a long time to get through this one, and weeks later I still find it hard to decide how I feel about it, but it’s absolutely memorable.
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (⭐)
I’ve been ridiculously lucky this month and read a lot of high quality and entertaining books. This was not one of them and I really struggled.
Hanks has written a series of short stories with a through theme of nostalgia and a shoehorned motif of a typewriter. Seriously, the first two or three are ok, but then you stop focusing on the stories and just waiting for the inevitable bloody typewriter to pop up “subtly”. Spotting the typewriter ends up feeling like the point to each story, after which you can move on. The most disappointing thing is that each story starts with a promising enough concept and then just…nothing happens.
It’s competently written, and every story is just…nice. At times you get the impression that Hanks feels he’s writing an “edgy” story, and he’s not. Unfortunately “Competent” and “nice” are not what I’m looking for in stories.
For years after reading American Gods I, slightly shamefully, claimed that I wasn’t a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing. I thought that my love of Good Omens must come from Pratchett’s involvement, but in the last 6 months I have (thankfully) been completely disabused of that notion and now I have discovered two new favourite FAVOURITE books: The Ocean at the End of the Lane which I reviewed previously, and Stardust.
Set in the human town of Wall and the contrasting multi-coloured world of Faerie, this is a more intelligent, thoughtful and hypnotic take on the two-world trope made famous by the Wizard of Oz – where you identify with the muted world but you desperately want to stay in the brighter dreamlike land beyond the confines of the story.
Our hero, Tristran Thorn, is a child of two worlds (unbeknown to him), who’s first experience of love sets him on a quest for a fallen star. Along the way, he encounters goblins, unicorns, witches and sentient forests based on Tori Amos, but more importantly he grows into the man he should be and comes to rectify youthful mistakes while maintaining his almost naive optimism.
This is a grown-up fairy tale full of hope and growth and magic, where the very prose makes you feel like you are coated in Stardust. I loved every word.
The Record Keeper by Agnes Gomillion ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Arika of House Cobane has spent her life identifying as a ‘First Brother’ of Kongo and training to be an elite Record Keeper, perhaps even a senator, for her region. She lives in a society built out of the ashes of old earth following a World War that left most of the planet uninhabitable, and the remains of humanity scraping their survival out of the charred earth. With the survival of the species on the line, the three surviving tribes: The Kongo, Clayskins and English have each accepted responsibility for one facet of continuing life and each race must pull its weight for everyone to survive. Or so Arika believes. In reality the new structure is built as much on oppression and racism as the old world structure was, but obedience is guaranteed through the mirage of equality.
As a child Arika had her streak of rebellion and fight brutally stripped from her ‘for the greater good’, but it simmers beneath and the Record Keeper charts her reawakening as she is forced to confront the truth which she has been sheltered from, including her own privilege and oppression of her own people. It is a challenging, powerful and empowering read, as it becomes clear that the more things change, the more they are kept the same, until we confront our power structures and stand up and enforce change, all while set in a future dystopia that is frighteningly like our current world.
Hope for the Best (the Chronicles of St Mary’s) by Jodi Taylor ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The latest book in one of my favourite book series’, the Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor continues the story of a group of chaotic, beautiful tea loving historians who investigate events in contemporary time (time travel to you and me). Hope for the Best is the 10th book in the series, and continues to follow the adventures of Max, Leon, Matthew and Dr Bairstow among others.
I love these books, they’re funny, engaging and usually reasonably light (except for book 8 which I’m STILL traumatised by, but begrudgingly accept) and speed through different time periods and adventure sequences. I’m a sucker for time travel stories but I’m ready to be done with Ronan and increasingly the Time Police, who I’ve never quite warmed too after the sudden alternative world flip (and don’t mention their behaviour over Matthew). I am always happy to reread these over and over and over again.
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops By Jen Campbell ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Does what it says on the tin, a collection from Bookshop owners all over the world which gathers together some of the more questionable conversations had with customers or overheard between friends and families. Everyone has moments of ditziness and comes out with something absurd but when they are gathered together in one book it is eye-wateringly funny. I tore through this in about two hours and was wheezing by the end, but it could easily be used as a Dip in and out read.
Green Valley by Louis Greenberg ⭐⭐⭐⭐
After finally reaching it on my TBR pile, I tore through Green Valley in the 24 hours. A very special example of Techno-Terror, a Sci-fi/Horror blend about a future city split between two extremes: A technology drenched walled-in city, Green Valley, where people have chosen to live in a virtual world utopia and their reality is a mystery; and the rest of the country where a total Technology ban exists in order.
After children riddled with nano tech are found dead, the murder investigation leads to Green Valley where Lucie Sterling’s niece, who she only met once before the wall went up, has also gone missing. Louis Greenburg manages to explore humanity’s relationship with technology without ever being preachy – and with a bloody terrifying ram thrown into the mix. It is creepy and intriguing and raises questions about why humanity is so driven to seek out extremes.
Thanks to @Titanbooks for the review copy. And the nightmares!
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Winner of the International Man Booker Prize 2019: Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi is a dense, sprawling, epic, which covers the lives of multiple generations of families, in particular 3 families, in the village of al-Awafi in Oman, in just under 250 pages.
It is poetic, and sometimes difficult to navigate, but completely hypnotic and engaging. It covers the trauma and joy of being a woman in a country undergoing massive cultural shifts, and beautifully illustrates generational differences in culture and expectation.
Confessions of a Bad Mother – The Teenage Years by Stephanie Calman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
A book which will speak to the heart of any parent; Confessions beautifully encapsulates the bittersweet frustration of your children growing up and simultaneously pulling away from you, the dichotomy of pride in their achievements and their ability to overtake you and pain as they make it clear they no longer need you. The book covers a mother’s journey from her children being 7 (yes, some teenage attitudes start this young) to leaving home. Well written and well observed, it’s a good warning for what I’ve got ahead of me! (my eldest has turned 7 and is already displaying some of these tendencies).
Girl in a cage by Jane Yolen ⭐⭐⭐
Girl in a Cage follows the story of 11 year old Marjorie Bruce, Robert the Bruce’s daughter and future mother of the Stewart dynasty, as she is captured and held hostage by Edward Longshanks during the Scottish wars for Independence. Simultaenously describing the first two weeks of her capture alongside the 8 months leading up to it, where her father took up the crown, resulting in his family having to flee across Scotland as fugitives, this is a story aimed at 8 to 11 year olds.
Over the last couple of years @Cranachanbooks has established a reputation for bringing a human perspective to historical lessons, and rendering them identifiable and interesting to younger readers, and so it is with Girl in a Cage by Jane Yolen Robert Harris (he of Talisman fame). It’s a winning formula, and one that really brings history to life.
The Girl in Red by Christina Henry ⭐⭐⭐
A post-apocalyptic retelling of Red Riding Hood with a dash of The Walking Dead and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road thrown in, albeit with a little more optimism and a prosthetic equipped, mixed-race feminist heroine who suffers no fools. This was an interesting and compelling re-imagining but, for me, there were a few too many elements chucked in the mix without adequate explanation.
I get that Red is just a ‘normal’ citizen and not a ‘chosen one’ who is looking for answers, but when there are genetically created monsters (aliens?), AND an apocalyptic croatoan type sickness creating havoc around the globe at the same time but with no clear or confirmed link then I need a few answers even if she doesn’t. This, combined with a time jump ending, made it feel like Henry had an interesting idea but got bored towards the end and couldn’t find a way to link it all. That being said, Red was a great grumpy heroine and I’ll definitely check out more of Henry’s re-tellings. Thanks to @titanbooks for this preview copy.
Love Nina: Despatches from Family Lifeby Nina Stibbes ⭐⭐⭐
My Book subscription book this month was something which I would never have picked up, but it was ok. A tame, humourous look at life among the London Literrati in the 80s. Funny and sweet in places, and with some great references and famous playwrights popping up and behaving ‘just like us’ but with more eccentricity. It was a little plodding, just like looking at someone else’s holiday snaps.
This month I did something which I never do. I refused to finish a book (and believe me I’ve read some dross) I do wonder however if it was just me as it has got incredible reviews elsewhere, so if you’re a horror fan don’t take my word for it, but my DNF was Growing Things by Paul Tremblay. An anthology of horror tales, I managed just 3 so can’t speak to the overarching themes. The stories themselves all started promisingly and with intriguing concepts, and then I’d lose what was going on. I didn’t find them creepy (as my husband suggested), just confusing, and given the promise each one held I just found it disappointing.
Pick of the Month: Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Dud of the Month: DNF Growing Things by Paul Tremblay