The Song of the Quarkbeast (The Last Dragonslayer Book 2) Jasper FForde – 15.07.21 and The Eye of Zoltar (The Last Dragonslayer, Book 3) – Jasper Fforde – 18.07.21

I remember reading the first in the Last of The Dragonslayers series a while ago, and not being that impressed – I don’t know what got in to me, because I loved books two and three! I guess Jasper Fforde’s style can be a bit annoying if you’re not in the mood for it – sometimes the humour is a bit base and slapstick, but the writing, plotting and characterisation are by no means infantile. These books are loaded with pathos, wisdom and raw human emotion. I guess I was in the mood this time, because the humour made me chortle and snicker in between wiping away tears and being on the edge of my seat with the tension. Although the setting is a world with magic and magical creatures, the motivations of the characters are all too relatable, from governmental corruption to capitalistic greed through to love, honour and the need for redemption. After reading these two books, I watched The Last of The Dragonslayers film which I also loved!

The Mortal Word (The Invisible Library book 5) Genevieve Cogman – 11.07.21

In this instalment of the Invisible Library series, our intrepid hero, Irene, joins a team investigating a murder at an unprecedented peace summit between the Fae and the Dragons. More magic, mayhem, mystery and romance – I liked it okay.

Low Action (The Vinyl Detective Mysteries, Book 5) (AUDIOBOOK) – Andrew Cartmel 09.07.21

I really like this series – I’m getting to know and love the recurring characters. (I just went to look at Amazon reviews, because I couldn’t remember the name of the ‘title character’ who is the vinyl detective, and I’m a bit gobsmacked by everyone saying ‘the still unnamed’ main character – it had seriously never occurred to me until this point that the main character is never named – saying that, it is quite possible that this had occurred to me in the past and I’ve just completely forgotten – I do have a notoriously bad memory!!). So, the unnamed title character, and his girlfriend, Nevada live in London with their two cats, and one of my favourite things about them is their love of and amusing observations of the cats and their behaviours. Their friends Tinkler and his crush ‘clean head’ join them on their detecting adventures around the world of vintage vinyl. (Who knew old records could cause such skullduggery and murder?). The gang get into more comedic life threatening situations in this tale where members of an 80s girl punk band from a posh English school start to fear for their lives. Lots of fun – bring on the next one. (Also, I usually read these books on kindle, but I must have got a good deal on the audiobook, and it was fun to listen for a change – the narrator sounded like a stoned Bill Nighy, which I thought was just the right note for this story!)

Little Eve – Catriona Ward – 05.07.21

Because I loved The Last House on Needless Street so much, I ordered this other book by Catriona Ward. Little Eve is a very different story, set on a remote Scottish island in the 1920s it follows a mass murder of members of a cult/commune. It feels like a kind of Gothic horror/literary mystery with some magical realism thrown in. It was quite compelling and I liked it well enough – it had one or two twists which I didn’t see coming. Didn’t love it as much as Needless Street though.

The Kingdoms – Natasha Pulley (AUDIOBOOK) – 04.07.21

I have really enjoyed other books by Natasha Pulley – she writes historical fiction with magical realism elements and often sweet but forbidden male homosexual love. This book ticked all those boxes, and I did enjoy it (on the whole) although at times I found it a bit of a slog if I’m honest.

The premise is that there is a wormhole off the coast of Scotland which, when sailed through a certain way makes you jump between around 1800 and 1900. When a ship from ‘the future’ stumbled into the middle of the Napoleonic war, it changed the course of history, causing France to win the war and England to be under French rule.

The main character finds himself in a London at the turn of the twentieth century where everyone speaks French and he has no memory of who he is, but has a sense of unease that things are not right. He follows clues and partial memories to a lighthouse off the coast of Scotland and is drawn into a confusing and alarming situation when he is pulled into the past.

A lot of the book takes place at sea, and there is war and fighting stuff which I found a bit boring. The mystery elements of ‘who knows more than they are letting on’ and ‘how is everybody connected’ are fun as well as the heart wrenching decisions people need to make knowing that everything they do in the past effects lots of stuff in ‘the future’ and saving the country could cost the lives of their loved ones.

By the end of the book, I was very invested and it was moving and satisfying how everything ultimately resolved.

The Last House on Needless Street – Catriona Ward – 29.06.21

Wow – this was a very gripping and engaging book. I read reviews that likened the plot to Russian dolls that open to reveal more twists and turns or ‘pull the rug out from under you’ just when you think you have worked out what is going on and I would agree with these reviews entirely. The book is about a small town in America where over the years several children have gone missing from ‘the lake’ where families go in the summer to swim and hang out. There are several narrators: a woman whose sister disappeared from the lake as a child and who is desperate to find her or at least to find who is responsible for her disappearance, a man with mental health issues who is visited regularly by a young girl who may be his daughter, and a cat. The narrators are unreliable and give us both clues and bum steers that keep you guessing while trying to piece together what actually happened or is happening. I found the book very enjoyable although quite disturbing. It was thought provoking and ultimately quite uplifting. Recommended.

Someone Like Me – M. R. Carey – 26.06.21

I loved the Koli trilogy books so much, that as soon as I finished reading them, I bought another M. R. Carey kindle book from Amazon and started to read it. It is very different to the Koli books, and I have to admit that it took me a while to get into it. It explored issues of trauma and mental health but has elements of magical realism/sci-fi. The main character is a girl, Fran, who was abducted as a child and rescued just in time from a man who was trying to kill her. She has hallucinations and an ‘imaginary friend’ as a result of this trauma, and meets and befriends a boy from her school (Zac) in the waiting room of her therapist as he is there with his mother, who is also experiencing similar weird phenomena. Are they both schizophrenic, or are the voices in their heads real?

The blossoming friendship/relationship between Fran and Zac is really sweet, and their quest to work out what is going on and try to fix it is exciting and gripping – The book is a horror/love story/psychological thriller and once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.

The Fall of Koli – M.R. Carey – 02.06.21 The Trials of Koli – M.R. Carey – 13.06.21

I read the first book in this trilogy quite some time ago, and I remember liking it, but not being blown away by it. The second book, however, had me really gripped, so much so that I instantly read the third book.

This series is set in a dystopian future where most civilisation had been destroyed by war and the remaining population lived in primitive villages with little communication or social structure between groups of people. Before the collapse there was a lot of advanced technology, but most of it has been lost or fallen into disrepair, and any working tech is guarded as relics by a religious overclass who keep its secrets from the general population. Koli discovers this secret, and manages to wake up a tablet computer with an onboard AI personality and has to run away or face execution when this is discovered.

Travel is made difficult due to waring factions, dormant but deadly military tech and genetically engineered plant and animal life that is all out to kill, eat or lay eggs in you.

Koli meets up with people, forms a questing party and has adventures. It’s fun, I liked it. There are thought provoking issues raised about people, society, technology, artificial intelligence etc and the characters are interesting and likeable and do the whole actual and metaphorical journey thing well.

Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir – (AUDIOBOOK) – 06.06.21

I heard an interview with Andy Weir on the radio just before I listened to this audiobook, so I was a little bit spoiled and knew something of what was going on before the book revealed it, but I don’t think that took too much away from the experience.

Like The Martian (which I loved) this book has a lone man who has to use his intelligence and scientific knowledge to save himself and ultimately all of humanity (and beyond…..!). I like nerdy science stuff, and this book had a lot of that.

At the beginning of the story the hero wakes up in a medical room being cared for by robotic arms and a disembodied voice. He has no memory of who he is or where he is, but uses deduction and experimentation to work things out, and gradually his memory returns piecemeal and we discover with him the enormity of the task before him.

I really enjoyed the book – it had (as I said already) lots of fun science facts, but also a really likeable main characters and enough humour to keep things from ever getting bogged down or boring. It’s hard to say more without giving spoilers, but If you liked The Martian I would absolutely urge you to read (or listen to) this novel – it’s a cracker!

Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart – 29.05.21

This was my book group read for June. One of the reasons I’m so behind on writing up my book reviews at the moment is because I was working full time from the beginning of February until the end of June teaching in a primary school in a really deprived interface area of West Belfast. I was the hardest five months of my life, unlike anything I’ve done before because the children just had so many social, emotional and educational needs – such a concentration of behavioural and learning problems. Each day was exhausting, and although I became very attached to and fond of the children in my class, they were hard work. So in the middle of all that, I read this book. Wow.

It is set in the tenements of Glasgow, which very much like some parts of West Belfast is beset with poverty, sectarianism and deprivation. Told from the point of view of ‘Shuggie’ a child at the beginning of the book who acts as carer for his alcoholic mother the book is not an easy read. It certainly touched a nerve with me, being so close to the situation of many of the children I was working with, and I found it hard to read because I wasn’t in a strong enough emotional state to cope with Shuggie’s tragic situation as well as the other things I was dealing with day to day.

I was so annoyed with the well meaning boyfriend who ultimately caused Shuggie’s mother the most harm. and the so many ways in which people in hardship are trapped and doomed. It’s a well written book, but depressing. I guess I would recommend it, and I might have enjoyed (or appreciated) it more myself if I’d read it when I wasn’t so stressed anyway!).