The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – (AUDIOBOOK) Suzanne Collins – 23.03.21

I loved The Hunger Games trilogy, both the books and the movies, so I was very excited by the release of a new addition to the series. In the original books, the president of Pan Am is a wicked character called Coriolanus Snow. This book is a prequel and focusses on Coriolanus as a young man who is a mentor to a girl from the districts who is chosen to compete in The Hunger Games.

Initially, Coriolanus is a fairly well meaning and noble character, with some questionable motivations, but basically trying to do the right thing. I was trying to rack my brains and remember more from the original books to see if his character as an old man had proved to have redeeming goodness, because I really wanted him to keep hold of the goodness within him. As the book progressed, however we see how events affect him and how the less noble aspects of his character are fed.

After having only listened to The Magnus Archives on my morning runs for so long, it was glorious to get back to a real novel, and getting my next installment was great motivation for getting up at the crack of dawn and going out running! I thought the book was very thoughtful and interesting, especially for a ‘young adult’ novel. The exploration of motivation behind totalitarian regime’s was deep and challenging.

There were a lot of songs in the book, and the narrator never attempted to sing them, so it was slightly weird just having them read out as straight prose, but I guess getting a narrator who was also an accomplished singer might have been difficult (and I guess some of the songs maybe don’t actually have tunes?). I really enjoyed the book though.

The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman – 15.02.21

I very much enjoy the genre of books sometimes referred to as ‘urban fantasy’ such as the Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London series, or the Sarah Painter Crow Investigations books, and I also enjoy Jodi Taylors time travelling historian books in the St Mary’s series, and these Genevieve Cogman books are often referred to in reviews of these books, so I thought I should give them a go.

The premise is that a secret library exists in a universe of parallel worlds whose librarians travel between worlds retrieving rare books. These worlds range from having strong Magical influences, and being ruled by Fae (fairies, vampires, werewolves etc) to having strong logical control and being ruled by Dragons, to somewhere in-between. There is much unrest and no love lost between the dragons and the Fae, with neither side giving much thought to the humans who also inhabit all the worlds. The Librarians are human, but with some extra powers inferred on them by the Library, and they are basically trying to keep the peace, and stop humans from being badly effected by what is going on.

I didn’t instantly love the book the way I have with some other similar books, but I like it enough (at the time of writing this review, I’m on book three in the series, so I liked it enough to keep reading!)

Big Brother – Lionel Shriver – 04.02.21

I have a strange relationship with Lionel Shriver books, because they are often pretty dark and cynical in their outlook and world view, and yet I keep coming back to them because they are in many ways such true mirrors to real human experiences.

For me, this book is like two books in one. At first, it took me a while to warm to the character of Pandora, wife and mother whose beloved, handsome, Jazz Musician big brother, who she had always felt somewhat overshadowed by (metaphorically) turned up years since she’s last seen him, down on his luck, and hugely overweight. His prolonged stay at her house put stresses and strains on her marriage and family relationships. The middle part of the book, where Pandora resolves to help her brother lose all the extra weight was my favourite part. They move into an apartment together and their shared journey of extreme dieting and getting fit was fun and relatable.

The end of the book, however, has a bombshell twist which I hated. I don’t want to spoil others experience by saying what it is, but I felt cheated and let down and thought ‘what’s the point in anything then’ when it was revealed.

I guess, like ‘Life of Pi’ the book is what you make of it, and for me, if I chose to ignore the ending and just remember the rest, then I liked it.

The Magnus Archives Series Three (Podcast Series) – Jonathan Sims – 28.02.21

I’m starting to get a little bit fed up with The Magnus Archives (I know, I should be ashamed!). Maybe because I’ve listened to nothing else for so long, or maybe because I seem to have endless problems with my Spotify playlist insisting on shuffling episodes when I’m out for a run so I keep getting them out of order, not to mention the endless ads. Hmm. Saying that, I did kind of miss it when I stopped listening for a while.

I still like the spooky voiced narrator/writer, and although I get a bit lost sometimes on the overarching plot, the individual episode horror stories are fun. I have to see it through until the end now, but I’ve stopped listening on my runs because of the problems already mentioned.

The Lost Future of Pepperharrow – Natasha Pulley – 26.02.21

This is a sequel to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, which I loved, and follows the same characters, but this time, instead of a Steampunk Victorian London, the action takes place in an historical Japanese setting with the backdrop of growing Japan/Russian tensions and threats of war. I loved the Japanese elements, since while my son Danny is home preparing for his move to Japan as soon as lockdown allows, we have be immersed in Japanese tv and film and so I was familiar with many of the issues raised.

This book has so many things to recommend it – the writing is clever and both literary and extremely readable, there is mystery and intrigue, mysticism and magical realism, romance and the whole miscommunication and social sidestepping that makes the will they/won’t they scenario so deliciously precarious. I really liked it!

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.