Piranesi – Susanna Clarke – 16.02.21

I didn’t know much about the plot of this book when I started, which is good because a lot of the fun is in figuring out what is going on and who to trust. I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, (although it’s years since I’ve read it) and so I was excited to read this. I was absolutely gripped by this book – the writing is beautiful and mesmerising, and the descriptions of the house where it is set conjures up so many images and feelings. I had to look up Piranesi who the title character is named for, and discovered he was an Italian artist who did lots of etchings of buildings and especially prisons, with great detail and often with mind bending impossible geometry (similar to Escher). Seeing Piranesi’s drawings helped with my mental image of the house, although it wasn’t really necessary as the writing is so evocative on its own. I loved the mystery of the book, I really bonded with the narrator and of course, I loved the esoteric, metaphysical aspects of the story. Great book, I totally loved it and now I’m sad it’s over!

The City of Mirrors – Justin Cronin – 13.02.21

I enjoyed this third part of the trilogy better than book two. There was a lot of back story on the character ‘zero’ who was the first person to carry the virus that started the whole vampire viral apocalypse. There was also quite a lot of magical realism type stuff in this book, which anyone who reads a lot of my reviews will know that I love! The remaining people who have been altered by the virus to become something ‘superhuman’ seem to exist largely in a kind of dream state in a heaven or nirvana of their own making, and also seem to be able to communicate telepathically with each other, and to a degree with the still human people who mean a lot to them. I thought the book wrapped up the series nicely with most characters getting the justice they deserved even if it was sometimes bittersweet. I also liked the ending that happened 1000 years after the initial viral uprising – it reminded me of the ending of the Mortal Engines books series by Philip Reeve which I still vividly remember years later because of the emotional kick it gave me!

The Magnus Archives Series Two (Podcast Series) – Jonathan Sims – 07.02.21

Series two is episodes 41 – 80 of the horror anthology series. Each episode lasts about 25 minutes. The Magnus Archive is an old institute in London (I think) where they keep records of sinister supernatural happenings. The archivists seem to read out written statements to record them on cassette tape (as any more sophisticated digital recording systems don’t appear to work in the institute). The stories have a nightmarish feel – with evil spider creatures, body snatchers, animated mannequins, powerful books made of human skin etc etc. As this series progresses, the archivists become more than just the people reading the statements as bad things start happening to them and they realise they are trapped in a very dangerous situation. Series one was mostly Jonathan Sims reading statements, but this series has a larger cast and some sort of ‘actiony’ episodes. I prefer the ones which are just someone reading a statement and the multi-voice action scenes are sometimes a little hard to follow, but I get how they are important to carry along the overriding mystery story. I’m still enjoying the series very much!

The Twelve – Justin Cronin – 03.02.21

When I read the first part of this post-viral-apocalyptic trilogy (The Passage) I was completely blown away and loved it, but this second book, I have to say, I didn’t love so much. A lot of new characters were introduced, and it was quite some time before we met up with some of our old friends from the first book, which I didn’t like. Also this book seemed to be more heavy on action and fighting, and less on character development and growing tension, and that’s not really my thing. (I loved the first Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows film with all the talking much more than the second one with all the big battle scenes!). It’s still a good book and I was only a little bit bored at times, and I still went straight into reading the third book.

The Magnus Archives Series One (Podcast Series) – Jonathan Sims – 01.02.21

My son, Christy recommended this podcast series to me as an alternative to the audiobooks I usually listen to. It’s an anthology series of one off horror stories, but with an ever growing interconnectivity. At first the stories all seem spooky but stand alone, but then little patterns or names or details show up in more than one story, and an overriding arc starts to develop. I’m very much enjoying the stories and the unfolding mysteries. It took me a while to get used to the podcast set up – I’m not so young that all this technology is second nature to me, and for a while when I listened to an episode on Spotify, at the end of the episode it automatically played the most recent episode rather then the next one. Since I listen while out running, it is fiddly for me to sort this and I ended up listening to episode 190 several times and getting spoilers! I have sorted this out now by making a playlist with the next ten or twenty episodes in the right order and deleting them and adding more every now and then. The ads at the beginning and end of each episode are annoying too, although I think there is a way you can pay and not have to listen to these? The stories (in the first series at least) are mostly read by the author (Jonathan Sims) and he has a nice and quite mesmerising voice. At the end of each series they have interviews and Q&As with the writer and production team which are quite interesting.

The Passage – Justin Cronin – 26.01.21

I bought this book in 2016 but hadn’t got around to reading it until it popped up as a kindle daily deal recently and the premise intrigued me. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in a near (and distant) future in a world decimated by a virus (!) Lol. It’s actually a good one to read in these covid times as it makes you count your blessings since the virus in this trilogy of novels outright kills 90% of victims and turns the rest into immortal vampire/zombie type creatures.

I’m already reading the second book in the trilogy, since I loved the first one so much! It’s quite a long book, but I was never once bored. The book follows different characters and jumps about in time a bit (over 1000 years actually!) which some reviewers didn’t like, or found confusing, but I did like. Jumping through times and points of view (if done well) is a good way of keeping the narrative fresh and since all the threads were important to the whole story and contributed then they were all worth telling. I had that good feeling of anticipation to get back to a previous thread and find out how that character is doing, while still being totally gripped and invested in what’s happening in the current thread.

I thought to myself while reading this that there is nothing about this that I don’t like. The fairly large cast of characters are all well fleshed out and interesting and the plot is intelligent and makes sense. The writer manages to make the tone ultimately uplifting and optimistic without being unrealistic or sickly sweet. The book reminds me of one of my favourite films: I Am Legend (staring the gorgeous Will Smith), as the viral creatures are similar to the vampires in that movie, and in both stories the virus is brought about by man tampering with nature ( In I Am Legend, with the lofty intent of curing cancer, but in this book with the more sinister motive of using a modified existing virus to create ultimate strong self-healing soldiers).

I’m finding it hard to sleep at the moment, since I’m furloughed from work and don’t have the tiredness brought on by an honest day’s work, but reading this book into the wee small hours is actually a big compensation!

Agent to the Stars (AUDIOBOOK) – John Scalzi (Narrated by: Wil Wheaton) – 19.01.21

I really enjoyed this audiobook. It is an example of a sci-fi comedy that doesn’t resort to ‘lowest common denominator’ slapstick or just stupid schoolboy humour (like the awful Elvenquest). This is a thoughtful and engaging story of an American agent who usually works with actors, but is given the secret task of putting a positive spin on the first contact between humans and an alien species that while intelligent and peaceable appear as foul smelling ugly blob creatures. There is a lot of humour, especially when one of the aliens merges with a dog and takes on its form and memories while still being able to talk and think like an intelligent alien. The characters are likeable and the plot races along with lots of twists and turns and a nice satisfying conclusion. It was a fun listen.

Melmoth – Sarah Perry – 19.01.21

I see from other people’s reviews on Amazon, that this is something of a ‘marmite’ book with people either loving or hating it. Well, I love marmite (on hot buttered toast…mmm!) and I love (or at least really liked) this book. It feels like a Victorian Gothic novel, with a deep sense of foreboding and dread throughout. It’s a retelling of a previous novel called Melmoth the Wanderer with Melmoth changed from a man who made a pact with the devil, to a woman who witnessed Christ’s resurrection but refused to testify that she had and was punished with eternal wandering and witnessing Man’s wickedness towards his fellow man.

The main character, Helen is an English woman living in Prague in a sort of self-imposed exile because of the guilt she feels over a secret from her past. She befriends an odd couple and the husband gives her a dossier before fleeing the country. It contains collected stories of people who have come into contact with Melmoth and Helen feels haunted by their stories and by the feeling of Melmoth coming for her because of her own guilty past.

I found the book really gripping and engaging, and I enjoyed reading the individual stories, as well as the arc of learning Helen’s history. I found the ending a little confusing, though, and the overall theme of the book a little too depressing and lacking in redemption, although it’s possible that there were deeper redemptive themes that when over my head? Still, a good read and I’m keen to read another book by Sarah Perry now.

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London (AUDIOBOOK) – Garth Nix – 15.01.21

I listened to this as an audiobook, rather then reading it, so have to base my review on that experience. I was very drawn to the title of this book – anything about book sellers catches my attention, and the left-handed part tweaked my interest too – are they sinister, or creative, or quirky…? and the reviews that I read sealed the deal describing it as urban supernatural fantasy. In the days when I used to read to my children at bedtime (my hubby was always impressed by my devotion to bedtime reading, but really I think I enjoyed it at least as much as the children and quite possibly more!) which is more then ten years ago now, we read Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series which I remember enjoying.

Well, first off I was instantly put off by the very posh English accent of the female narrator ( Marisa Calin ). It’s a problem I have, and I know it’s wrong of me, but coming from a long line of working class (although I’m kind of middle class now really, at least in my aspirations) northerners I can’t help associating that ‘proper BBC English’ upper class accent with privileged, entitled, arrogant colonial types. Imagine my surprise, when I looked up the narrator, and found out that she is American, born in California! Also, to be fair, her intonation and emotional interpretation of the text was really good, plus she did regional accents for a few of the characters (Scottish and Yorkshire among them) which were believable and pleasant to the ears, so I guess the problems with her were all mine, but still, I wish she’d picked a less posh voice for the main narration.

That aside, I did really enjoy the story. Set in the 1980s, the main character, Susan, travels to London a few months early to start her Art college course because she is on a quest to find out who her father is from a scant few clues gleaned from her mother. Very quickly strange and dangerous things begin to happen to her, and she falls in with the magical booksellers and other very mythical creatures before finding out her true lineage.

I loved the references to lots of books, as well as the mythology and lore in the plot and the inevitable romance wasn’t too cringeworthy.

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce – 14.01.21

This is a really lovely book. The main character, Frank is a middle aged man who had an unconventional upbringing by his bohemian but mentally ill single mother who instilled in him a passionate love for music – telling him tales that brought to life pieces of music from classical to jazz, pop, rock etc… He runs a record shop in a small London street with a tight knit community of small business owners who are each others family and support group. Frank has an uncanny knack for knowing what music each person needs to listen to to help them get through whatever troubles they are experiencing and he uses this skill with compassion and largesse.

One day a German woman faints outside Frank’s shop, and he brings her in and helps her. This meeting starts what should be a beautiful relationship, but due to secrets and miscommunications it is beset with problems.

I don’t usually like soppy feel good books, but I loved this. The characters are flawed and funny and relatable and their relationships are inspiring and frustrating and heartwarming. I also loved the passion Frank has for music and some of his descriptions of pieces of music and the stories behind them made me want to instantly listen to them on Spotify!

I recommended this book to my book group friends, although I accidentally told them it was called The Record Shop instead of The Music shop, which I can’t help thinking should have been it’s title, since Frank was so religious about Vinyl being the only acceptable format for music!