Sleeping Beauties (AUDIOBOOK) – Stephen King, Owen King Narrated by: Marin Ireland – 11.12.20

This is a long audiobook (over 25 hours) and due to a glitch with my audible not synching properly between the different devices that I listened to it on, I must have listened to about 40 hours of it! This was actually not a bad thing, because there are a lot of characters and a lot is going on and often I only picked up on things on the second (or even third) listening of a certain passage. Also, I was never bored even with the overlaps. The narrator, a woman with a lovely southern American accent is a joy to listen to, and brings the characters and plot to life really well. The book is set in the recent past (just pre-covid, I guess) in the small town of Dooling, West Virginia. The appearance of a mysterious woman in town coincides with a world-wide phenomenon where all female people who fall asleep are covered in a weird fibrous cocoon and enter a sort of sleeping coma. If anyone tries to remove the cocoon the women rouse long enough to react with extreme violence before returning to their sleep. We discover that their conscious minds are inhabiting a sort of parallel town of Dooling in a new society without any men. As more women fall asleep, the two societies polarise with the male Earth erupting into violence and mayhem while the female place gets on with life peacefully.

The book was a lot of fun to listen to, although it paints a really bad picture of men, with most of the male characters being total toe-rags, and most of the women bearing the scar of systematic male abuse. The ending was interesting and satisfying.

The Quantum Curators and the Enemy Within – Eva St. John – 09.12.20

This is the second book in the series by Eva St. John about a parallel Earth whose inhabitants can travel to our Earth at set points in time and they use this ability to retrieve precious artifacts just before they are lost or destroyed and display them (or at least holographic images of them) in museums. In this parallel world, Julius Caesar was lost as sea which changed the course of history, meaning the Roman Empire did not flourish and the Greek and Egyptian societies did. The result is that the world view of the people is much more ‘civilised’ at least on the surface and crime is low. A man from our Earth was trapped in this other Earth at the end of the first book, and this book is about how he copes with the culture shock and trying to fit into this new society. As he begins to suspect corruption and foul play amongst high ranking citizens, he meets resistance from those he tells who just can’t fathom that anyone would do that. The book led to some interesting discussion with my husband on our daily dog walk about human nature and why utopian political ideals don’t work in practise because there are always enough selfish or immoral people to mess with the system. Even though the book raised deep questions, it is not a heavy read – it’s fun, similar in feel to the Jodi Taylor Chronicles of St Marys.

The Cat and the City – Nick Bradley – 01.12.20

This book was written by a westerner who has lived in Japan and whose PhD thesis (I think) was about the role of cats in Japanese literature. My son, Danny, is hopefully moving to Japan in a couple of months, initially to attend an intensive language school (he’s already pretty conversant in Japanese, but not quite fluent yet) and then to live and work. He’s living at home at the moment and immersing himself in all things Japanese for language and cultural acclimation, so we have watched lots of Japanese movies with him (with English subtitles for us!). It was fun reading this book and having ‘oh yes, Danny has told us about this Japanese custom’ or ‘oh yes, we saw that in that film’ moments. I really liked the start of the book where a mysterious woman asks for a tattoo (quite taboo in respectable Japanese society) all over her back of the Tokyo city scape with no people in it. The tattoo artist adds a cat which seems to have moved around her back every time she comes back for a new tattooing session. The cat also meanders through the book’s connected stories of several Japanese characters (the cast is so large that I often found it confusing). I liked the book, it was well written and interesting, but I was a little disappointed that the books opening hints of magical realism weren’t really followed through the whole book, but then I’m a sucker for magical realism!

Burnt Sugar – Avni Doshi – 26.11.20

Hmmm, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. I have read some amazing books that have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, so when they come up as the Amazon Kindle Daily deal, I usually buy them. Also, the premise of this book interested me, both the dynamics of a difficult mother/daughter relationship, and the exploration of the unreliability of memory, for all of us and especially in the case of the mother in this novel for those who are entering the decline of dementia. If I’m honest, I found the book a bit boring in places (although bits of it resonated and I felt the pain of the characters) and then just as my interest was being piqued the book ended, abruptly and confusingly. I don’t know if this was intentionally unsettling, the way life often is, or if it was just poor writing?

Elvenquest: The Journey So Far: Series 1,2,3 and 4 (AUDIOBOOK) – Anil Gupta, Richard Pinto – Narrated by: Stephen Mangan, Alistair McGowan, Darren Boyd, Kevin Eldon, Sophie Winkleman, Dave Lamb – 22.11.20

I was quite annoyed by this audiobook, because it was the first full production/radio play audiobook I’ve listened to that I really haven’t loved, plus, I used my monthly credit to buy it whereas many of the audible productions are available free to members. It’s a farcical take on the fantasy hero quest genre, recorded in serial form as a radio show and ongoing (the plot didn’t resolve at the end). It’s a comedy, and it did make me laugh quite a few times, my problem with it thought, was that it was so blatantly misogynistic and the humour was mostly at the schoolboy toilet level. There was literally no opportunity to make genitalia jokes, innuendo or sexist comments that was not leapt on. This is not highbrow, subtle or clever. It’s a pity, because when it’s done well, I love comedy fantasy satire type things. I was also annoyed by all the main ‘good’ characters having such incredibly posh English accents, which, being a northern lass instantly puts me off something (I know, that makes me a bigot – they can’t help being post etc, but it’s the centuries of being looked down on by the upper ruling classes that still grates). Not for me.

Dittany and a Death: Mystery (The Witches of Wormwood Mysteries Book 6) – Silver Nord and Ruby Loren – 16.11.20

This series of books by Ruby Loren (or her alter-ego, Silver Nord) are my guilty pleasure! It’s a supernatural ‘cozy mystery’ series with some romance thrown in – I know, reading that description would normally make me run a mile! I hate brain dead insipid romance or genre fiction, and yet, I really enjoy these books. I think they must be really well written or they just tap into the little niche of what floats my boat, as they say. I’ve tried and given up on a few different similar series, because I love books like Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, as well as Sarah Painter’s Crow Investigations books and was trying to find something in those lines. The Witches of Wormwood books are not really like those, being much lighter and ‘cozier’ but still I very much enjoy reading them. In this one, a supernatural circus comes to town and when one of the performers is found dead, our magical hero, Hazel Salem, teams up with her non-magical policeman friend/love interest to solve the crime.

Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid (AUDIOBOOK) – 13.11.20

This book was longlisted for the Booker, but it isn’t at all highbrow and hard to read (or in my case, listen to), in fact, I was totally gripped by it. As an audiobook, it is what I listen to when out running or walking mostly, and this book made me want to take really long walks, and then go straight out for more walks so I could listen some more! It reminded me somewhat of the book (or perhaps even more so, the tv series) of Little Fires Everywhere, as it was mostly about a rich white woman (Alix) employing a poorer black girl (Emira) and the intense dynamic of that relationship. The book begins with the black girl, who was the family’s child minder, being called away from a birthday party to help them out in an emergency by taking their three year old daughter out of the house for a time while they dealt with it. She goes with the child to the local grocery store (as all parents know, you can kill time with a small child in almost any shop, just looking at stuff) but because she is a black girl dressed up for a party with a white child in a rich neighbourhood, she is suspected of kidnapping the child and detained in the store until they can get the child’s father to come and sort it out. The family is horrified, but Emira just wants to forget it as she is sadly used to this kind of racism. This sets the tone for the book which is written with beauty and cleverness and wit, and great character development and the plot had me gasping and desperate to keep listening to what on earth was going to happen next!

Home Going – Yaa Gyasi (BOOKGROUP) – 11.11.20

Homegoing

This was my book group read for November and a really good book. The book follows seven generations starting with two Ghanaian sisters whose lives took them on very different paths as one was taken as the wife of a British slave trader, and the other was taken as a slave and sold to America. There is a family tree in the front of the book which would have been very helpful, except as I read it on kindle it was too footery for me to keep flipping back and checking it. That said, it was not too hard to follow the structure where chapters tell the story of each generation alternating between the two families. Of course there was shocking instances of people’s cruelty to other people, but there was also glimpses of light and strength of human character, and although the book was something like a series of short stories as the main character changed each chapter, the thread of the family and how we are all products of our family histories lived through the plot. I found it very readable and well written and well worth reading.

The Zeta Family – Gretchen Enders (Audible Audiobook – Original recording) Narrated by: Natasha Lyonne , Kevin Nealon , Amy Goodmurphy – 03.11.20

I have been very much enjoying listening to Audible Original productions lately, and this was another fun one. It’s a comedy sci-fi (one of my favourite genres) although, actually now that I’ve written that down, I’m thinking maybe wasn’t really sci-fi…?? It is set in New York State and is about a young woman who decides to infiltrate a cult so she can write a story about it in order to break into a career in journalism. The cult is based on the leaders belief in some kind of parallel world alien stuff, and it is wonderfully narrated by the raspy voiced and hilarious Natasha Lyonne (from Orange is The New Black and Russian Dolls). All the characters have secrets and many of them are Canadian. I loved it.

Ayoade on Ayoade – Richard Ayoade (AUDIOBOOK) – 02.11.20

‘Surreal and Hilarious’ is the quote from The Guardian on the cover of this Audiobook and I have to agree. In my house, the quiz show ‘pointless’ is watched daily, and the two hosts, Richard and Alexander often riff with each other by one of them saying a blatantly untrue ‘fact’ and them discussing it in outrageous and nonsensical detail. This book reminded me of one of their riffs on steroids. I know and love Richard Ayoade from his show ‘travel man’ and his appearances on panel shows like ‘have I got news for you’ (I didn’t watch The Mighty Boosh, or the IT Crowd which he is perhaps most famous for) and so I was familiar with his dry often sarcastic wit. The book is a parody of overly pretentious navel gazing arty farty works and consists of Ayoade being interviewed by a second person who is also Ayoade on the subject of film and his relationship to it (he has directed two fabulously surreal movies: ‘Submarine’ and ‘The Double’ and appeared in one or two somewhat questionable movies as an actor). It is very strange. I loved that the audiobook was narrated by the author, even though he repeatedly cut in with asides asserting that the book really doesn’t work in this format and the listener really should have bought it as a physical copy. It made me laugh out loud at times, and just say ‘what the heck’ at others but on the whole, it was a very enjoyable experience.