The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro – 26.04.21

Man, this book was a real slog to read. My first thought, when I finally finished it, was ‘thank goodness that’s over’ and my second thought was that I wanted to go online and read up other people’s interpretations of it because it was still swirling through my mind.

Spoiler alert – I’m going to discuss the whole book so if you don’t want to be spoiled you should look away now.

The premise of the book is that a world renowned concert pianist, Mr Ryder, arrives at an unnamed European town with a vague idea that he is giving a performance, but also a sort of important keynote speech at an event a couple of days later.

The whole book reads like a surreal anxiety dream, with impossible twists and turns, like the characters travel a long distance but end up where they started, or that one minute characters have never met, and the next they are sharing reminiscences from several mutual experiences. Mr Ryder is in a constant state of confusion and never seems to be sure where he should be and what he should be doing and anyway wherever he goes he is met with obstacles and set backs and new calls on his attention. He meets many characters who could all represent aspects of his own psyche or life experience – a small boy who feels protective of his mother and ignored by his father, a young man whose budding musical career is belittled by his parents, an old man who stoically works hard even thought it is costing him his health, as well as cases of unrequited love, love lost over time or love in danger of being lost due to lack of communication.

All through the book I was trying to work out what was really happening – was the whole thing a dream? Is Mr Ryder a patient in a mental health institute, or suffering from dementia? I even wondered if the town was actually purgatory and Mr Ryder had to atone from the sins of his life before passing on.

Well, the book ends and we are never told.

Did I like it? No! yes? I don’t know. Was it genius or pretentious drivel…? Hmmm, probably the former, I guess, although I don’t really think it’s a book I enjoyed reading. But, saying that, I’m quite enjoying thinking about and analysing the experience now that it’s over…..

Everyday Magic: The Adventures of Alfie Blackstack – Jess Kidd and Beatriz Castro – 9.04.21

Everyday Magic: The Adventures of Alfie Blackstack eBook: Kidd, Jess, Castro,  Beatriz: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

I think Jess Kidd is a fabulous writer and I have loved everything I have read/listened to by her so far. Her other books (that I am aware of) have been for adults, all with some supernatural or magical realism element (my fav!) and written with dark wit but also real human feeling and depth of characterisation as well as interesting and well rounded plots. When I heard she had a kids book coming out, I went ahead and preordered it, even though I’m 51!

Well, I loved it! With elements of Roald Dahl and Diana Wynne Jones (and JK Rowling, because of the magic and all that…). A young boy loses both his parents to independent and equally gruesome accidental deaths and goes to live with his estranged aunts, who turn out to be practising witches and he discovers his magical heritage. Jess Kidd, I think manages to strike the perfect balance of humour/pathos/peril and heartwarming ‘ah’ moments as we get to know the characters and thankfully the book ended with an opening to a sequel/series, which I would definitely be buying and reading if it did come out!

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V.E. Schwab – (AUDIOBOOK) – 25.04.21

I very much enjoyed listening to this audiobook. As always I listened mostly on my pre-work morning runs, and I have really enjoyed my runs of late due in no small part to my pleasure at this story.

Adeline Larue was born in France in the 18th century, and was not satisfied to accept the life of women in rural France at the time – to be married off young, bear children, run the home, cook, clean etc etc. She managed to avoid marriage for a while, but when aged 23 her parents had had enough and arranged a marriage for her, she couldn’t bear the thought and ran into the woods just before her wedding. Since childhood she had befriended the local ‘wise woman’ who taught her to pray to the old gods, and that’s exactly what she did.

This time, someone answered, and Adeline made a deal. She asked for time to be herself, to be free and not to be beholden to anyone, and in return she offered her soul to the god when she was finished with it. As anyone knows the gods/fey/faeries/ daemons will always twist deals with mortals and as Adeline (now Addie, as she loses her name in the deal) discovers she is now instantly forgettable – as soon as anyone loses sight of her they forget ever having known or even met her. She is also immortal, and thought she can feel pain and hunger etc, these things cannot do her permanent harm.

We follow Addie’s story for three hundred years, with flashbacks interspersed with the modern day story of Addie in 2014 New York. I found the book intelligent, thought provoking, exciting, fun, romantic (but not in an annoying way)- just all round really good. I tried to guess the ending (as you do…) and although I was kind of half right, the actual ending was much better and more satisfying than the one I came up with.

I liked the narrator as well (Julia Whelan) especially her French accent. At times I couldn’t make out if she was saying ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ which is probably down to my bad hearing more than anything else, but made for some confusing dialogues!

The Other Half of Augusta Hope – Joanna Glen – 08.04.21

I read the second half of this book in one sitting when I couldn’t sleep one night, and I was totally gripped by it. I remember lying in bed thinking gushing adjectives about how incandescent, perfect, heart wrenching and beautiful it was.

The book tells parallel stories, in alternate chapters, of Augusta, a twin in a very middle class suburban family in the South of England who feels out of place, and Parfait, a boy growing up in war torn Burundi and suffering terrible atrocities and traumas.

Both Augusta and Parfait dream of escaping to a different life and a tragic happening when Parfait finally makes it out of Africa to the shores of Spain at the same time that Augusta’s family are holidaying in Spain shapes both of their lives.

Looking back on the book, and analysing it, I can’t help thinking the the story is very contrived, and our heartstrings are constantly plucked at with what could be unkindly construed as manipulative melodrama, and yet, I still remember how much I loved the experience of living the drama with the characters, so I think I’ll stick with my gut and not my head and say it’s a great book!

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World – Elif Shafak – 04.04.21

According to this book (I don’t know if it’s true or not), scientists have shown that brain activity can continue for up to 10 minutes 38 seconds after clinical death, and that is the premise for the first half of the novel, as we share the thoughts of Leila, a sex worker in Istanbul for the ten and a half minutes immediately after her murder. She remembers her life, from her birth and childhood, to the circumstances that lead to her becoming a sex worker. These memories are hung around her meetings with five significant people who she has loved and who have loved her. We also get a short back story for each of these characters, making this part of the book a little too disjointed for my tastes, almost like a series of connected but separate short stories. For me, the second half of the book, where these five friends of Leila’s come together to try to give her a proper burial is where the book really comes alive – it has humour, pathos and shocking stories of abuse within families and in greater society not unique to the Turkish culture, but interestingly framed within it.

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker – (AUDIOBOOK) – 31.03.21

I was quite excited by the opening of this book. The premise, told by the main protagonist, a girl, Julia, aged eleven at the beginning of the book, is that the rotation of the Earth is slowing, so that day lengths are increasing. We are never told why this is happening, but I was fascinated by the science of what effect this would have on life. Things like gravity increasing, due to the lessened effect of centrifugal force which counteracts some of the force of gravity. Unpredictable eclipses and other phenomena like solar flares, etc. Increase in solar radiation and the dying off of plant life. That part I loved. I didn’t love so much the coming of age family drama aspects of the story. I do appreciate that an end of the world disaster story only has true meaning if we bond with the characters going through it and get to know them as real people, I just found myself bored by the endless American Middle School Angst of Julia, fretting over boys and training bras and who is best friends with whom when I wanted to know more about what was happening on a global scale. I thought the book picked up again towards the end, so I’m maybe judging too harshly, as many books dip in the middle.

The Masked City (The Invisible Library book 2) Genevieve Cogman – 23.03.21

The Burning Page (The Invisible Library book 3) Genevieve Cogman – 30.03.21

So, I read the next two books in the Invisible Library series. I’m still trying to decide what I think of the series. I can’t really say anything negative about it – it doesn’t really annoy me (apart from the ‘sexual tension’ between the female lead and just about every male person she comes into contact with). There are a lot of elements that I like – the parallel worlds, the fey (magical people) and the dragons (who doesn’t love dragons??). It’s quite exciting, in a ‘cosy mysteries’ kind of way. I’m not sure why I just like rather than love these books. Still, I’ll keep reading the series, so that says something, I guess….

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – (AUDIOBOOK) Suzanne Collins – 23.03.21

I loved The Hunger Games trilogy, both the books and the movies, so I was very excited by the release of a new addition to the series. In the original books, the president of Pan Am is a wicked character called Coriolanus Snow. This book is a prequel and focusses on Coriolanus as a young man who is a mentor to a girl from the districts who is chosen to compete in The Hunger Games.

Initially, Coriolanus is a fairly well meaning and noble character, with some questionable motivations, but basically trying to do the right thing. I was trying to rack my brains and remember more from the original books to see if his character as an old man had proved to have redeeming goodness, because I really wanted him to keep hold of the goodness within him. As the book progressed, however we see how events affect him and how the less noble aspects of his character are fed.

After having only listened to The Magnus Archives on my morning runs for so long, it was glorious to get back to a real novel, and getting my next installment was great motivation for getting up at the crack of dawn and going out running! I thought the book was very thoughtful and interesting, especially for a ‘young adult’ novel. The exploration of motivation behind totalitarian regime’s was deep and challenging.

There were a lot of songs in the book, and the narrator never attempted to sing them, so it was slightly weird just having them read out as straight prose, but I guess getting a narrator who was also an accomplished singer might have been difficult (and I guess some of the songs maybe don’t actually have tunes?). I really enjoyed the book though.

The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman – 15.02.21

I very much enjoy the genre of books sometimes referred to as ‘urban fantasy’ such as the Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London series, or the Sarah Painter Crow Investigations books, and I also enjoy Jodi Taylors time travelling historian books in the St Mary’s series, and these Genevieve Cogman books are often referred to in reviews of these books, so I thought I should give them a go.

The premise is that a secret library exists in a universe of parallel worlds whose librarians travel between worlds retrieving rare books. These worlds range from having strong Magical influences, and being ruled by Fae (fairies, vampires, werewolves etc) to having strong logical control and being ruled by Dragons, to somewhere in-between. There is much unrest and no love lost between the dragons and the Fae, with neither side giving much thought to the humans who also inhabit all the worlds. The Librarians are human, but with some extra powers inferred on them by the Library, and they are basically trying to keep the peace, and stop humans from being badly effected by what is going on.

I didn’t instantly love the book the way I have with some other similar books, but I like it enough (at the time of writing this review, I’m on book three in the series, so I liked it enough to keep reading!)

Big Brother – Lionel Shriver – 04.02.21

I have a strange relationship with Lionel Shriver books, because they are often pretty dark and cynical in their outlook and world view, and yet I keep coming back to them because they are in many ways such true mirrors to real human experiences.

For me, this book is like two books in one. At first, it took me a while to warm to the character of Pandora, wife and mother whose beloved, handsome, Jazz Musician big brother, who she had always felt somewhat overshadowed by (metaphorically) turned up years since she’s last seen him, down on his luck, and hugely overweight. His prolonged stay at her house put stresses and strains on her marriage and family relationships. The middle part of the book, where Pandora resolves to help her brother lose all the extra weight was my favourite part. They move into an apartment together and their shared journey of extreme dieting and getting fit was fun and relatable.

The end of the book, however, has a bombshell twist which I hated. I don’t want to spoil others experience by saying what it is, but I felt cheated and let down and thought ‘what’s the point in anything then’ when it was revealed.

I guess, like ‘Life of Pi’ the book is what you make of it, and for me, if I chose to ignore the ending and just remember the rest, then I liked it.