The Midnight Library – Matt Haig – 19.08.20

I have loved everything I’ve read by Matt Haig, even his self-help type books, when normally I wouldn’t go near that sort of book. This is a novel, with a bit of self-help thrown in for free. During a suicide attempt, Nora finds herself in the state between life and death in a mysterious library with her beloved old school librarian, Mrs Elm. All the infinite number of books represent possible lives she could have lived. Mrs Elm shows her a book of regrets, which lists all the things she has done that she wishes she did differently, from major life decisions to minor little things. Nora is given the chance to experience what her life would be if she’d made the other choice – she can visit as many of these alternate lives as she likes until she finds one where she wants to stay. The story is fun and wise and thought provoking and actually made me feel better about my life – the takeaway sentiment from the book is not to live with regret because whatever choice you make you will end up with a life that has both joy and sorrow and seeing what might have happened makes you both appreciate the life you have and feel excited for the potential for what is yet to come.

Everything Under – Daisy Johnson – 14.08.20

I wish I knew how to capture or even quantify the quality that makes some books just so darn beautiful. Like dipping my toes into water that is just the right temperature I knew right away that I would relish swimming through this book (am I stretching this metaphor too far?!). It’s similar in feel (I thought) to the lovely ‘Where The Crawdad’s Sing’ although it’s set in England with the riverboat community rather than in the swamplands of Florida. The book examines the complexities of family relationships, specifically mother/daughter relationships and the unreliability of memory – one character trying to piece together the truth from her patchwork of childhood memories, and another losing perspective as alzheimer’s steals an ‘orange sized chunk’ from her own mind. Themes of gender and language and fate pervade with different strands of the plot nibbling at the reader’s consciousness like fish nibbling a lure before being reeled in and slotting into place with a satisfying clunk. I really loved this book.

The Limpet Syndrome – Tony Moyle – (AUDIOBOOK) – 14.08.20

This audiobook is the first in a darkly comedic supernatural series and I received it and also the first in another series by the same author as a free promotion. I approached it with a slightly snobby ‘well, if they have to give it away for free, it can’t be that good’ attitude (despite me using the same tactic with Blood and Snow free promotions(!)) but I was actually, for the most part, pleasantly surprised. The storytelling was at times genuinely funny (also sometimes a bit cringeworthy) and the plot made sense and rattled along at a never boring pace with enough complexity to stay interesting without getting needlessly complex. I didn’t like the two main characters of men in their thirties ogling over a 17 year old girl and the very sexualised language used to describe her. I get that one man was supposed to be a morally corrupt rock star, but still, with our enlightened modern sensibilities it just jarred with me. That aside, I did enjoy listening to the book and I may buy more in the series to listen to (not decided yet).

The Porpoise – Mark Haddon – 10.08.20

I have enjoyed other books by Mark Haddon, so was looking forward to this one. I didn’t really know what to expect and I was very quickly drawn into the book’s exciting opening scenes of a dramatic plane crash. Then the story follows a father bereaved of his wife and left with a newborn daughter – this part of the book is told with beauty and sensitivity although it delves into the dark world of incest and sexual abuse. I wasn’t expecting the next turn, when a character is suddenly transported to ancient Greece with no explanation and who quickly forgets he had any other life and becomes the character of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. I found this sudden switch disconcerting, to begin with, but quite quickly became entranced with the historical fiction adventure story. I wasn’t familiar with the story, or the Shakespeare play about it, so the afterword by the author explaining how his novel mirrors the original telling, where the insestual relationship between a king and his daughter acts as the springboard for Pericles adventure story was helpful in my appreciation of the book. It was a well written and gripping (if at times slightly confusing!) read and I enjoyed it very much.

Shadowplay – Joseph O’Connor – (Audiobook) – 07.08.20

I just finished listening to this audiobook, and I have a kind of mixed reaction. First, it has a lot to commend it: based on the life of Bram Stoker, mostly during the time when he worked as a stage manager at the London Lyceum Theatre with the famous actors, Sir Harry Irving and Ellen Terry, the language is rich and lyrical and the setting of theatre life and London life at the time of the Ripper is very evocative – you can almost hear the cockney voices and smell the greasepaint and smog. The theme of the book seems to be one of sadness and unfulfilled yearnings. Bram longed to be a successful author and husband but his books did not so well in his lifetime, and his marriage fell apart. All the characters seemed to struggle with inner demons and feelings of insufficiency and failing to reach their self-imposed ideals. For me, as well as the slightly depressing tone, I found the book at times a little confusing and slow (maybe due to listening on Audiobook, as then if I’m not fully paying attention to a paragraph, I can’t just read over it as I would if I was reading on Kindle). Definitely well written and interesting, and yet I just didn’t totally love it.

The Torment of Others (Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, Book 4) – Val McDermid – 04.08.20

I’m not a huge fan of crime thriller books, although, oddly enough I do enjoy a moody crime thriller series on the tv (Just binge watched all four series of Cardinal and loved it). Jan McDermid is a good writer though, and one of the few crime thriller writers I enjoy. This book had lots to recommend it – interesting and well developed characters, a plot which kept me guessing almost right up the the reveal, and it was never boring or annoying. Yet, I finished reading this feeling sullied (or maybe just a bit depressed) because the story takes you into the mind of a serial killer and includes some nasty gory details and it’s just a bit too bleak and dark maybe for my tastes. I finished it quite late at night, but had to read some of Billy Connolly’s funny monologues before going to sleep just to get my head into a better place. I’ve already bought more in the series (they were on offer on Amazon one day) so I will read more, but I need to space out the series with lighter things in between.

The Shell Collector – Anthony Doerr – 28.07.20

This was my book group read for August, and I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise as I’m generally not a fan of short stories, although I do love Anthony Doerr’s novels – All The Light We Cannot See, and About Grace. Well, I’m glad I did read it as the writing was really beautiful and compelling and the stories were long enough and rich enough to draw me into the world of their protagonists and really care about what happens to them. There is a theme of man’s relationship to nature which runs through the stories, with quite an emphasis on hunting (especially fishing) which might have put me off if I’d known ahead of reading, but actually didn’t detract from my enjoyment. There are some magical realism elements (yay!) with a blind man’s uncanny ability to find rare shells, and a woman who discovers after marrying a hunter that she can feel the last thoughts and emotions of recently dead animals, as well as seeing the dreams of sleeping animals (and humans). I really enjoyed reading this book.

Calypso – David Sedaris – (AUDIOBOOK) – 28.07.20

I’m not sure why I bought this, because it’s really not the sort of thing I usually go for – I had it on kindle, and also on Audible so I’m guessing it was the 99p kindle deal one day and adding audible must have been cheap too (my memory is so bad!) so I went for it. Well, I’m glad I did. Calypso is a series of monologues, some read by the author and some recorded from his live shows. I had not heard of David Sedaris before, but he’s an American comedy writer and speaker and as I listened to him telling me his stories and observances from life I found myself laughing out loud while walking my dog or jogging much to the amusement of those random people also out walking/jogging. I felt a deep sense of connection with his experiences with fitbits and road rage and being part of an extended family, and getting older and I loved his blunt, saying it like it is, sometimes rude or irreverent but always hilarious style.

The Quantum Curators and the Fabergé Egg: An alternate history, time-travel adventure. Allons-y! – Eva St. John – 25.07.20

I’m a fan of the St Mary’s time travelling historians books by Jodi Taylor, and this book, first in a new series by Eva St. John is in many ways very similar. The Quantum Curators are inhabitants of an alternate version of our Earth which they call Earth Alpha, as opposed to Earth Beta (our Earth). They are able to travel via some sort of quantum wormhole to Earth Beta, and arrive at a time of their choosing, and their job is to collect valuable and significant items that are about to be destroyed or lost for ever on Earth beta, in order to display them in their museum. Like the St. Mary’s books, the style is fairly lighthearted, with humour and relationships between characters being just as important as the excitement of the chasing down of artifacts and evading baddies part of the plot. I enjoyed the book and have pre-ordered the next in the series.

The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton – (AUDIOBOOK) – 21.07.20

I had this book on both Audio and kindle, and although I mostly listened to the story, I did sometimes dip into reading a bit on the kindle, and immediately upon finishing the book I watched the BBC miniseries adaptation, so all in all it’s been a multisensory experience! The book is told from the perspective of lots of different men who are peripheral to the main players and plot, and gives each of their backstories and the ways in which they interact with what’s going on with the central story – one of murder, theft, love and magic during New Zealand’s gold rush era. Because of this method of telling, the story was teased out in bits, with overlap of some things from different perspectives, but with new nuggets (note the gold prospecting pun!) with each man’s tale. Sometimes it was a bit long winded and I did occasionally get a bit bored, but at other times I was totally gripped, and all the more so from having soldiered on through the sometimes tedious details to get to where I was. I liked watching the adaptation after reading, because, although some minor details were changed, the spirit of the story was the same and the programme drew out some of the more magical elements which I don’t think I fully got from reading the book. All in all, a very enjoyable experience.