The Day Chuck Berry Died – Ian Inglis – 28.01.23

My daughter, Becca got married in September (it was a lovely wedding!) and I met her in-laws for the first time the day before. We got on very well, and I didn’t know that Chris’s Dad had written fiction until they sent us a flyer for a book launch event for his published collection of short stories.

So of course I bought the book and read it with the inevitable anxiety of ‘what will I say if it’s awful and I hate it!?’. Well, thankfully it is far from awful – it was obvious right away that Ian is a talented writer, and I didn’t hate it. Anyone who has read a few of my reviews might know that I’m not generally a fan of short stories, but I did enjoy reading this book. Here is a cut and paste of the review I left on Amazon:

A quote from one of the stories in The Day Chuck Berry Dies sums up how I feel about the whole book: ‘a combination of overt nostalgia and contemporary mischief, brimming with optimism and displaying a real talent for the use of language.’

Many of the stories are coming of age tales, often people later in life looking back on defining moments from their youth sometimes with fondness, or regret, or wistful wonderings about roads not taken.

My personal favourite story was ‘All About The Touch’, because it is the only one with supernatural or magical realism element, and that is a genre I very much enjoy.

As well as reading on my kindle, I like to listen to audiobooks when walking or running, and the one I was listening to while reading this book was the much hyped ‘Exactly What You Mean’ by Ben Hinshaw, another collection of short stories (although loosely connected and called a novel) and I couldn’t help comparing. In my opinion, The Day Chuck Berry Died is much superior. While both Ben Hinshaw and Ian Inglis are obviously gifted writers, I just found Inglis’s stories to be more engaging and satisfying and his was the book I looked forward to returning to.

A Sh*tload of Crazy Powers – Jackson Ford – 26.01.23

I’m still enjoying the Tegan Frost series. In this novel Tegan has a run in with her brother and sister which results in her losing her powers just in time for her to be caught up in a terrifying hotel hostage drama. A second thread which runs through the book in alternate chapters follows Annie who wakes up from her coma and rushes off to try and find Tegan, who she wrongly believes is being held by her siblings.

Again it’s quite an actiony book, and yet I loved it. I especially loved the ending and I can’t wait for the next book to see what the future holds for Tegan and friends.

Against the Loveless World – Susan Abulhawa – (AUDIOBOOK) – 25.01.23

I didn’t love this book. It was interesting to read a novel from the perspective of a Palestinian, trying to survive amid all the turmoil in the Middle East. My problem was that I just didn’t warm to the main character, Nahr. Awful things happened to her, and I could totally understand the choices she made, I just didn’t really like her personality. I know that it’s easy for me to say that, living as I do in comfort and not being afraid for my life or my family’s life and that things like that are bound to shape a person and being abrasive could be her form of self protection. I feel like not liking the book makes me a bad person, and why should I find cosy kinship with all the characters I read, and maybe that’s a fair point. Still, just saying how I felt, and how I felt was, it was interesting, but I didn’t love it.

If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe (John Dies at the End, Book 4)- David Wong – (AUDIOBOOK) – 18.01.23

I’m still really enjoying this series, even if it is infantile in its toilet humour overload. In this instalment the new toy that every child wants, a plastic egg that hatches into one of a few collectable fluffy plushies, turns out to be a tool by evil entities to control children and do really bad stuff.

The gang have to figure out how to beat this creepy badness and save the world (again) and they do it with their usual style, humour and character developing journeys.

Again, I found the story clever and engaging and I enjoyed the ride.

Nation – Terry Pratchett – 15.01.23

This is a lovely stand alone young adult novel by Terry Pratchett. Set in an alternate Victorian era, a young girl who by a strange quirk of fate turns out to be the daughter of the new king of England (a pandemic wipes out so many people that all the hundred plus closer in the line of succession than him are removed) is travelling by ship in a region which suffers a devastating tsunami and is shipwrecked alone on an island. Meanwhile, a young boy who had left the island to carry out a lone rite of passage on a neighbouring island returns to find his home ruined and the people of his village all killed by the flood.

The book follows them as they try to rebuild their lives with the other waifs and strays that turn up. It has some humour, but lots of meaty difficult issues are tackled in really intelligent and thoughtful ways – racism, sexism, colonialism, culture, religion, childbirth, bereavement and human character from all extremes from very bad to very good. How the choices people make form who they become and the relationships they build.

I think it is an amazingly good book, and I really enjoyed reading it.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul: Dirk Gently, Book 2 – Douglas Adams (Audiobook) – 13.01.23

I think I enjoyed the second installment of the Dirk Gently series (once again expertly narrated by Stephen Mangan) even more than the first. The plot reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, or American Gods, with Norse Gods interacting with modern day humans and causing mayhem.

Lots of fun.

The Half Life of Valery K – Natasha Pulley – 10.01.23

I have loved the other books I’ve read by Natasha Pulley, all of which have had a magical realism element in an historical fiction setting. When I saw the title of this book, I assumed it would be more of the same so I eagerly bought it.

Well, I was wrong in thinking this book has magical realism. In fact, had I read the synopsis of the plot if I didn’t know the author, I definitely wouldn’t have read this book, thinking it wouldn’t have been my cup of tea.

Set in the Soviet Union during the 1960s, the title Character, Valery K is an academic studying the effects of radiation on biology who had been imprisoned in the Siberian gulags for six years on trumped up charges.

His is unexpectedly removed from prison and sent to work with a team of scientists in an unknown town studying the effect of the nearby nuclear powerplant on the environment. He soon discovers there are deeper and more sinister things afoot, and others before him who had asked too many questions have wound up dead.

I really loved this book. I was totally gripped, I loved the characters. I loved Valery’s journey from barely surviving prisoner to respected colleague, to terrified secret keeper. I even loved all the historical detail. Fabulous book!

A Face Like Glass – Frances Hardinge (AUDIOBOOK) – 07.01.23

I always enjoy Frances Hardinge novels. This one is set in a world where everyone lives in an underground city with a well defined class system where the underclasses are exploited by the elite classes. In this world, people do not have the innate ability to form facial expressions and must learn a handful of ‘faces’ to use when they deem them appropriate. A child is found and adopted by a poor cheesemaker and she has no memory of her life before, but he makes her always cover her face. She believes it is because she it too ugly or disfigured (they have no mirrors) but discovers eventually that is it because her face constantly changes and reveals her thoughts (ie she had what we would consider a normal face).

This is a young adult novel, and the feisty female protagonist (the girl with the face like glass) must overcome trials and perils to discover her identity and right (at least some of) the wrongs of the worlds she finds herself in.

Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro (AUDIOBOOK) – 03.01.23

Like many Ishiguro novels, Klara and the Sun was a beautiful, but surreal and often confusing read. It is narrated by Klara, who is an ‘artificial friend’ or sentient robot person, beginning when she lived in the shop waiting to be bought, and then when she went to live with her new family to befriend their sickly daughter.

Klara is an unreliable narrator in that although she is intelligent and has a photographic memory, she is naïve in how she sees the world. As she is solar powered, she has a strange relationship with sunlight, and views the sun as a sentient benevolent deity.

The reader’s understanding of the world (or at least mine) slowly puts together the pieces of what’s going on, and it wasn’t really until I’d finished the book, and dwelt on it in my thoughts (and googled a bit!) that I felt I fully got a grasp on the story, and that’s where it kind of fell down in my estimation.

Spoiler Alert – don’t read on if you don’t want the ending to be spoiled.

So, when I finished the book, I still had questions – I like that everything is not overexplained, but can be ascertained, but I did have to look at other people’s summaries of the book before I felt I fully understood. But I just didn’t buy the basic premise. The book is set in a future (or alternate present) where genetic modifications can create much more intelligent children, but they are risky and often result in sickly children who are likely to die before reaching adulthood. This is why the artificial friends are used, to make siblings for children whose own siblings have died. Only the more wealthy families can afford the genetic modifications, creating an ‘underclass’ of children with lower intelligence.

I just didn’t believe that parents would choose intelligence over the health of their children. Even in a world where not getting the adaptations put your children in a lower ‘class’ I still don’t think parents would risk losing their children, or even putting them through sickness.

Still, it’s an interesting and thought provoking book – probably would be a good one for book groups to discuss.