The Death of Vivek Oji – Akwaeke Emezi – (AUDIOBOOK) – 12.04.23

Like my previous audiobook, this story is set in Nigeria and I enjoyed the lovely Nigerian accent of the narrator.

Vivek Oji’s body is left naked outside his mother’s door, and one strand of the book is about unravelling the mystery of what happened and how he died, but the book is about much more than that.

Jumping backwards and forwards in time, the book follows Vivek from his birth to his death, and also the lives of the people around him – his family and friends and the impact he had on them and they on him.

It’s about family and love, and sexuality and gender identity and acceptance or prejudice.

I has quite a lot of sex in it, and since I often listen to my audiobooks out loud at home while doing jigsaws, this was a bit embarrassing (!)

Chosen: An Alex Verus Novel – Benedict Jacka – 13.04.23

In this installment of the Alex Verus novels our hero has to revisit his shameful past as the brother of a girl he helped kidnap when he was an apprentice to a dark mage finds him hell bent on bloody revenge.

The man has a band of magical vigilante allies out to kill dark mages and between them they are deadly so Alex is struggling to avoid them while also trying to find out what happened to the girl.

The book brings up difficult moral dilemmas and situations where there is no easy or ‘good’ answer.

Infinity Gate: Pandominion, Book 1 – M. R. Carey – (AUDIOBOOK) – 10.04.23

Oh my goodness, I absolutely LOVED this book! I haven’t enjoyed an audiobook this much since, maybe The Hail Mary Project by Andy Weir (which incidentally it reminded me of in places, when there was fun science explained in a way that was entertaining and informative). The other series which of course this book reminded me of is The Long Earth books by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter because this it a story about someone who discovers how to step into parallel universes.

This book begins in our world (or one like it?) at a point in time when the world is ravaged by climate change and global war is imminent. It starts with a socially awkward Nigerian scientist who is so focussed on her work (some kind of particle physics stuff) that she barely notices that the world is falling apart around her and only when she needs assistance with her new discovery does she realise that she is alone in her university facility.

She logs into her colleague’s AI since there are no humans to help her, and part of the story is narrated by this ‘self’.

The multiverse world she finds is also experiencing war, this time between organic ‘selves’ (not all earths have the sentient life evolved from apes, in some world the ‘selves’ are evolved from cats or dogs or rabbits) and beings from worlds where artificial or mechanical life is dominant and a lot of the tension comes from both sides not being able to comprehend that the other is actually sentient and not ‘just a machine’ or ‘just an animal’.

The book is so well written – introducing characters and fleshing them out with full backstories so we get to know and love (or at least understand) them, and at the same time nothing is wasted space because everything comes together beautifully and masterfully at the denouement (it make me think of A Prayer for Owen Meany or Holes in that things which just seemed to make the story interesting actually turned out to be pivotal to the overarching narrative!).

The only negative I felt was the abrupt ending, and that I guess is because this is the first in a series of books and the action will pick up in book two which I now can’t wait for!!!

Stray Souls (Magicals Anonymous Book 1) – Kate Griffin – 08.04.23

I have read a few of the Matthew Swift Midnight Mayor novels, which I like although I find the writing style a little bit busy and tense, so I thought I would give this spin off series a try and I’m glad I did.

It is a bit more gentle and humorous than the Midnight Mayor books, with fun characters and more to my taste. There was still action, and Matthew swift made several appearances, but the main protagonist is Sharon Li, who discovers she is a Shaman when she suddenly becomes aware of everything and everybody in the city of London. She is helped in discovering her new abilities by a grumpy troll mentor and she becomes the leader of a self help group for random troubled magicals who introduce more humour and fun group dynamics into this urban fantasy tale.

The House in the Cerulean Sea – T.J. Klune – (AUDIOBOOK) – 03.04.23

Hmm, there were a lot of positives in how I felt about this book, and yet….

The main character, Linus, is a shy single gay man who works as an inspector of homes for magical children. The world in which the book is set is very prejudiced against magical creatures, which exist but which are nearing extinction due in most part to genocide by ‘normal’ humans.

Apparently the book was written as a reaction to the author’s horror regarding how the Canadian government used to take indigenous children from their families and put them into homes to be taught how to be civilised and then adopted by white families.

Linus means well, but is a stickler for the rules until he spends time at a very special home (The House in The Cerulean Sea) and meets the children who live there and their carer, Arthur.

Linus instantly fancies Arthur, although he wouldn’t admit it, even to himself, and the growing romantic relationship between them is actually very lovely and well done.

What annoyed me was how sweet and saccharine the children in the home were , including ‘Lucy’ the son of the devil and the actual antichrist. It was like a Disney cartoon version of Hades with flowers and butterflies. I don’t know if the narrator added to this with his ‘posh American’ almost patronising tone that some people put on when talking to small children.

It could have been a much darker, and I think, richer novel if it had a bit more realism.

I did enjoy it, on the whole, although it felt like a book for much younger children, apart from the occasional adult themes.

How to Sell a Haunted House – Grady Hendrix – (AUDIOBOOK) – 27.03.23

I’m a big fan of Grady Hendrix, and this is one of my favourite of his books yet. I really enjoyed listening to this story which kept me gripped and made me laugh and grow emotionally attached to the characters.

It has lots of classic horror tropes like the big old house full of creepy dolls, things moving around, squirrel taxidermy coming to life etc but it all felt new and fresh and real. I loved the family dynamics and the flawed but well meaning relatable protagonists and I liked how the story had a satisfying ending.

If Cats Disappeared from the World – 25.03.23

This book has lots of very positive reviews, and it’s supposed to be very deep and philosophical, but I’m afraid I thought it was a load of old rubbish!

I have been reading some books written by Japanese artists, or set in Japan prior to my Trip in May to visit my son in Tokyo, so that is what drew me to this book.

The premise is that a man is told that he has an inoperable brain tumour and only days to live. Reeling from this news, he meets a person who looks exactly like himself, but is in fact The Devil, who offers him one extra day of life for every (meaningful) thing he agrees to have removed from the whole world from that point on.

So, he starts with mobile phones, and as you can imagine, the world is on the whole (at least on a superficial level) better off without them since everyone starts noticing things and people around them again. He moves on to music, films and clocks, and then is offered the choice of dying or removing cats from the world.

To me, the book felt like it was written by a twelve year old. The ‘philosophy’ was just really obvious observations that have been made many times before (probably by twelve year olds), and the premise was dumb. One extra day in return for removing important things from the world seems stupid, and incredibly selfish – why should the whole of humanity sacrifice stuff for one man to have one more day?

Well, it’s possible that there is depth that I’m too set in my ways to see, but I’m inclined to think that it’s an ’emperor’s new clothes’ situation and actually the book is not more worthy of praise than a naked man who thinks he is dressed to the nines.

The Little Friend – Donna Tartt – (AUDIOBOOK) – 23.03.23

I enjoy listening to this novel as an audiobook – I liked the Southern American accent of the narrator. It’s a coming of age/murder mystery/family drama set  in a small Mississippi town, in the 1960s and 70s.

Harriet is obsessed with finding who murdered her brother a decade ago and with wreaking revenge on them.

It’s a study of the misunderstanding and misconceptions rife in the mind of a child raised in a setting of prejudice both racist and classist and in a family broken by sudden and horrific loss.

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo (BOOKGROUP) – 21.03.23

This was my book group read for March, and funnily enough, like the previous book group book (Exactly What You Mean by Ben Hinshaw), it is a novel which is really a series of connected short stories. Whereas I hated the previous book, and used the fact that it was really short stories as the basis of my rant about it, I actually really enjoyed reading this book.

I have looked at other people’s reviews of this book on Goodreads, and it’s quite divided, with many people not liking how the book follows 12 characters, sequentially, most of them Black British women with various ‘issues’ and, they feel only skims the surface of each character before moving on. I can see where they are coming from, and usually this would bother me too, but, I don’t know, I just found the reading of this book to be a thoroughly enjoyable immersive experience.

The style of writing is also divisive, without much punctuation or capitalisation which some people hated and others (me included) found it gave the storytelling a presence and truth and verisimilitude (I had to look that word up because I was reaching for something that meant what it means!!) like someone is telling you the story from their life with passion without having to pause to conform to grammatical rules.

I can’t explain why I was so captivated by this book – I’m not a black British woman (I’m a white Irish woman (or almost Irish)) but I felt kinship and empathy with the characters.

The other girls in the book group all enjoyed it too.

Sixteen Souls – Rosie Talbot – 10.02.23

The beautiful walled city of York, with it’s towering Gothic cathedral, York Minster is the perfect setting for this coming of age/coming out, young adult ghost story urban fantasy. I have read quite a lot of books in the urban fantasy genre, and this was a very enjoyable one, up there with my favourites such as Rivers of London and the Crow Investigations series.

Charlie died of meningitis and was revived, when he got better, he had lost both his legs, but gained an ability so see and interact with dead people. We meet him a few years later when he has adjusted to what’s happened and is best friends with some of the ghosts. But when ghosts start disappearing, and a new seer is in town Charlie must get over his distrust and work with him to solve the mystery.

Big thumbs up, I loved it!