The Various Haunts of Men: Simon Serrailler 1 (AUDIOBOOK) – Susan Hill – 18.07.22

I think this book must have been on sale at Audible, and when I saw it I bought it thinking of Susan Hill’s spooky ghost stories and not realising that this is actually the first in a series of police detective murder mystery books.

Well, just as well I didn’t realise this, as it might have put me off buying, and I would have missed a great listen. I was gripped by this audiobook – I felt drawn into the characters and intrigued by the case and I was genuinely shocked by one or two of the twists.

I’m looking out for the next in the series being on sale.

84K – Claire North – 16.07.22

This is my third Claire North book, and one thing that I liked about it is how different it is from each of the other Claire Norths I’ve read. It’s a dystopian novel set in a not too distant future where capitalism has gone crazy and monetary value is given way more weight than human rights. The hero, Theo, works in an office assigning fees as punishments against crimes – to the rich, these fees are worth it and crimes, even murders are just transactions that they pay for with little thought. For the poor, the fines are so cripplingly expensive that many have to sell themselves to indentured servitude to pay them.

When Theo discovers he may be a father, and that his ‘daughter’ is enslaved he realises the devastating effect of his work on real people and sets out to rescue the child and even try to take down the system while he’s at it.

The writing style of this book is really interesting (some might say, ‘arty’). I have mixed feelings about it, because I did get a bit confused at times, (although everything came together and made sense to me by the end) but on the other hand I really liked it.

The characters’ thoughts and speech often trail out mid sentence, so where we are used to reading neat complete sentences, instead we get beginnings and snippets and jumbled phrases, and while this maybe takes more effort from the reader to parse and understand, is it not more true to life? I have often thought fiction is too neat – people make speeches or think profound essays that I don’t come out with off the top of my head, so why should they? So I think, well done, Claire North – good for you.

The First 15 Lives of Harry August – Claire North – 05.07.22

This is the second in my Claire North binge, and another great book. Similar in plot in many ways to Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, which I enjoyed reading, and I loved the TV adaptation of. In both novels, the main character is reborn every time they die to re-live the same life over again, with subtle (or not so subtle) changes. In the Kate Atkinson novel, the character doesn’t remember reliving other then a sense of foreboding causing her to avoid things that have killed her in the past, but Harry August remembers every instant of each of his growing number of lives. As is the style of Claire North, some ‘what-if’ magical realism possibility is explored in really thoughtful and interesting ways . It askes the questions: if this thing really happened to a real person how would it affect them? How would they live, what would they do? The questions are addressed and answered in ways that make sense, while still being gripping and moving – I can very much empathise with the character, and imagine myself in the role – what would I do?

I’m so happy I have discovered this writer and I’m getting so much joy from reading her books.

Honeycomb – Joanne Harris (AUDIOBOOK) – 03.07.22

I enjoyed listening to these beautiful and lyrical, if dark and cautionary adult fairy tales read perfectly by the author, Joanne Harris. The stories stood alone but also interweaved into one narrative whole and were full of the fey folk mythology that I love, with some twists by Joanne Harris incorporating the insect world into the magical realms, and lots of wry and intelligent political commentary and allegory woven through. Loved it.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope – Claire North – 26.06.22

When I finished reading this book, I rattled off a string of superlatives in my head of how wonderful it was (since as always I’m super late in writing this up, I can’t remember the half of them) something like: beautiful, poetic, gripping, relatable, intelligent, thoughtful, devastating, fun, amazing… (and so on – you get the picture!).

The plot is similar to another book which I very much enjoyed, ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’. In both cases, the title character is forgettable. I don’t mean that the book is boring – far from it. The premise of the story is that people forget their encounters with Hope as soon as they stop seeing her. As a lifelong introvert, I have often thought this should be my superpower – but in fact it makes it impossible to have a job, or relationships, or rent or buy a house. Hope must become a criminal in order to live, and she’s good at it. Luckily she is able to have an internet presence and a lot of the plot of the book is based around the profiling and shaping of people by the internet companies. Typical of Claire North (I have become a massive Claire North fan in recent times!) the story is very thought provoking and deep and I loved it.

Yestertime: A Novel of Time Travel (Yestertime Series Book 1)

– Andrew Cunningham – 20.06.22

This book has thousands of great reviews and Amazon, which confounds me because I thought it was one of the worst written books I’ve ever read (or almost read – I gave up at 80% – you’d think having got that far I’d see it through, but no, it was so bad and not getting any better, I literally couldn’t take any more).

I don’t like writing bad reviews, because I know from experience as a writer that reading them can be upsetting, but since Andrew Cunningham has so many five stars and since such a tiny number of people read my reviews anyway, I think I can vent on here.

I thought the writing was clunky and unsubtle and the writing structure was boring and linear (ironic for a time travel book!). I didn’t like or care for any of the characters and giving up at 80% was just a relief.

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes – 14.06.22

I watched TV adaptation of this novel first, with Elizabeth Moss and loved it. In the TV series, Elizabeth Moss’s character survives a vicious attack and is convinced that she was the victim of a serial killer, a conviction which the police initially at least don’t take seriously. In the TV series, since the attack, her character seems to switch between parallel realities with small or big changes (from a different hairstyle, to being married or having a different career) but is always working towards solving the mystery of the killer, evidence of whom crops up in archives from different eras in time.

After watching the show, I still had questions and wanted to delve deeper, so I bought the book to read. Well, The book, like the show follows the character who survived the attack, and her quest to unearth the truth, in both the book and the show there is a time travelling murderer, and a mysterious house that controls the narrative, but in the book there are no parallel universe switches, which disappointed me because that was one of the things I really likes about the show.

I did enjoy reading the book, but it’s hard to judge it on its own merit since I came to it expecting something else.

This One Sky Day – Leone Ross – 08.06.22

This is a beautiful, magical, surreal, though provoking, funny, lovely book. Set in an imaginary part of the Caribbean, whose inhabitants have individual special skills, often magical it follows a chef’s quest to create a perfect wedding feast, although that is incidental really to all the other things that are going on. In this gloriously vibrant setting, real life problems of unrequited love, miscommunications, difficult family relationships, drug addiction (the gentler narcotic is eating live butterflies, but eating moths is the serious dark addiction) exploitation of indigenous people, or poorer classes are explored. One of the most memorable happenings is when every woman’s external sexual parts fall off. The women are initially alarmed and worried, anxious about practical issues like infection etc, and how they react to this part of themselves being a separate thing they can hold and look at. The men don’t take it very seriously which is commented on my one woman with ‘imagine how they would react if all their penises fell off!’

I enjoyed it very much, and talked about it to the girls in my book group, even thought it wasn’t a book we had read together.

The Vinyl Detective – Attack and Decay – Andrew Cartmel (AUDIOBOOK) – 04.06.22

In this latest installment of The Vinyl Detective, the gang go to Sweden in search of a rare Death Metal album, and murder and mayhem ensues.

The series still makes me laugh and there are lots of wee things I like about the characters – how they love cats and are foody and so nerdy about records.

Fun.

A Woman Made of Snow – Elizabeth Gifford – 29.05.22

I found this to be an intriguing and enjoyable historical fiction novel. The story takes place in two time streams – the more modern being in 1949 and the earlier in the 18 hundreds. A woman who wants to be taken seriously as a modern intelligent person finds herself as a stay at home mother living in the shadow of her difficult mother-in-law. She is tasked with sorting through the documents found in the old family home, and when after a storm a body is unearthed the mysteries they hint at deepen.

The other story follows the family ancestor, a medical student who drunkenly agrees to be the ships surgeon on a whaling vessel headed for the arctic and the gruelling voyage he endures and the aftermath of that.

I found the book interesting – as you would expect with historical fiction there was classism, racism and sexism in spades, which our characters had to deal with, but the book also tackles timeless issues of love and family relationships and the blessing and trials that come with these things.