Fattypuffs and Thinifers – Andre Maurois – 28.12.22

Still on my end of year nostalgia kick, I read this book which was one of my childhood favourites. I don’t know what happened to my original copy, but I went ahead and bought a second hand paperback copy from an Amazon seller. I’m lazy about reading actual paperback books now, almost all my reading is done on my kindle and the effort of having to hold the book and turn pages and read with the light on (I love to read in bed just by the light of the kindle screen) is almost too much. I have actually found myself resting my finger on a word that I don’t know the meaning of because that’s how I get the definition on my kindle! (What am I like?!)

Any way, this book, translated from French and first published in 1931 (so it was already pretty old when I was a child) follows two brothers who stumble into an underground world where they are instantly separated into a ‘fatty’ and a ‘thinny’ and sent off the the segregated nations.

They end up as advisors to the leaders of the two nations who are going to war over their ideological differences (although the disingenuous reason is disagreement over the name of an island between their two nations).

It’s a book about the folly of war and the fresh perspective of the boys from a world where fatties and thinnies live together peacefully helps the nations to find peace.

I remember loving it as a child, although I suppose they wouldn’t get away with a book nowadays that classifies people by body shape even if the point is how wrong that is.

Dirk Gentle’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams (AUDIOBOOK) – 26.12.22

In the cosy time between Christmas and New Year I was treating myself to some old favourites: first Neverwhere, and then Dirk Gently. It’s so long since I read this book, that the audiobook at first seemed very chaotic and I wasn’t totally sure I was following what was going on, but it did all come together nicely, and I basked in the lovely, clever silliness of Douglas Adams surreal writing.

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman – 25.12.22

Sometimes you just have to cleanse your palate with an old favourite, and this lovely book by the great Neil Gaiman is just that.

Gaiman wrote the screenplay of the BBC series first (in the 1990s), and then the novel is an adaptation/companion to that. I love the series and re-watch it every couple of years and the same for the book.

Set in London below and with clever word plays (or real meanings) of many of the familiar London place names (whitefriars are actual monks, Knightsbridge is a scary bridge through the night, the angel Islington is an angel etc. ) a man from London Above (Richard Mayhew) is drawn into an adventure below when he stops and helps Door, a young woman on the run from two gloriously and humorously wicked thugs, Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar.

One of the first and best urban fantasies, this book fills me with warm, fuzzy, nostalgic, book love.

The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1 – Patrick Rothfuss (Audiobook) – 09.12.22

I remember that I bought this book (and its sequel) from Audible because I read an article about the greatest fantasy books of all time, and all the other books on the list were among my favourite ever reads. This book certainly has many great reviews on Amazon, but man, I really didn’t enjoy it.

The audiobook is loooong. 28 hours. And the time did the opposite of flying by.

I just went and looked again at the Amazon ratings, and apart from a few nay-sayers (with whom I totally agree) the fast majority of people rave about how gripping and amazing it is. I’m at a loss. I found the main character annoying. He was instantly good at everything in a totally un realistic way, and for the most part I found the writing boring and the story unengaging. Occasionally I found myself a bit interested, but mostly it just dragged on and on.

I’m slightly conflicted, because I’ve bought the second book, but I really can’t see me wanting to waste any more hours of my life listening to it.

Unraveller – Frances Hardinge – 15.12.22

I don’t read much pure fantasy these days, generally preferring Urban Fantasy or Magical realism books (or just literary fiction) but I do like Frances Hardinge books even though I would class them as pure classical fantasy.

In the world of this book, strange magical spider like creatures have ‘gifted’ humans with the ability to curse other humans if they have strong negative feelings towards them. These curses have devastating effects often physically changing the cursed person into an animal or even an inanimate object.

The book follows Kellen who has the rare gift of unravelling these curses and restoring the person to their human form, and Nettle one of the first people he restored from the bird form that she had been cursed in to.

Like other books by Frances Hardinge, the plot is complex and wide ranging exploring the politics and power structures of the world, but also very approachable with real and interesting characters who the reader can learn to love and root for.

A Frances Hardinge book is always a treat.

A Madness of Angels (Matthew Swift Book 1) – Kate Griffin – 05.12.22

This is a fun introduction to a new (to me) series in the Urban Fantasy genre. It is quite action packed, which would often put me off, but I still very much enjoyed reading this book. Set in a London where various factions of people with different magical abilities co-exist not necessarily peacefully, the book begins with a character having to fight for his/their life/lives (they confusingly sometimes refer to themselves in the singular and sometimes in the plural – the reason for this is eventually explained) without any memory initially of who they are and why they are in this situation.

I enjoyed it, and bought the second book in the series.

What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror (John Dies at the End, Book 3) – David Wong – AUDIOBOOK – Narrator – Stephen R. Thorne – 01.12.22

At Christmas, I persuaded my son and husband to watch the movie adaptation of John Dies at The End with me (I hadn’t seen it before), and I told them that I was reading this book series and loving it (my son was familiar with the author from his podcasts). Well, I have to say that I was a bit embarrassed, because the film (like the books, if I’m honest) is full of schoolboy potty humour and swearing. And yet. And yet… I do love these books. There is just something about them. If you see past the crass jokes and genitalia references, the characters are lovely and flawed and relatable but trying to be good and the plots are clever and inventive and the endings are satisfying. Honest.

Due to John and Dave having taken some weird drug called ‘the sauce’ in book one, they can see all kinds of paranormal things that most people can’t. In this book it a parasitical creature that is turning corpses into zombies.

Lot’s of humour (see above) and horror but also lots of heart and actually really interesting and thoughtful storytelling.

Sweet Harmony – Claire North – 23.11.22

I have such a writer crush on Claire North – (I ❤ her!) and I have yet to read anything by her that I didn’t at least like and usually love. Like all her novels, Sweet Harmony takes a ‘what if’ idea as the central concept and then builds a world around it.

In this case, the what if is ‘what if nanobots were real and everybody who could afford them made their bodies perfect’ . All the knock on effects and follow up questions you might think of on the subject are explored in the experience of the central character.

If you could eat ice-cream and chocolate cake all day and stay slim and healthy, would you? Would you exercise if you didn’t need to to be healthy? Would you make your face/skin/teeth/hair/figure etc ‘perfect’? Would we still need hospitals and health care workers if nanobots could cure everything? How much would they cost? Who could afford it? What would happen if you stopped being able to pay the monthly subscriptions?

Therein lies the tale, and it’s a cracking good one at that!

The Ghost Woods – C.J. Cooke – 21.11.11

I quite liked this book. It is a period piece, about girls sent to a mother and baby home with some unpleasant and eerie secrets. At the beginning of the book, the main character has no memory of how she came to be pregnant and the book slowly unravels her repressed memories along with the secrets of the house. There are some supernatural and magical realism elements, and it is quite spooky, but I didn’t love it as I found myself getting a bit bored of it all in the middle and I was glad when it was finally over.

Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan – 08.11.22

Set in Wexford in Ireland in 1985 this beautiful novella follows Bill, a loving husband and father who works hard selling coal and timber and making deliveries around the town. When he delivers coal to the Magdalen laundry (an institute run by the Catholic Church in Ireland and now famous for the horrible abuse to girls who fell pregnant out of ‘wedlock’ and were sent there) he struggles with his reaction – should he help the girls and risk alienation and persecution in the town very much under the thumb of the church?

I read this short book in one setting, and was enraptured by the fabulous writing and the evocative story.