The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman – (AUDIOBOOK) – 15.09.20

I was pretty excited waiting for this book to come out, I pre-ordered it as an audiobook as this worked out as the cheapest way for me to buy it. I like Richard Osman, he seems like a nice and intelligent chap, and I guess I was expecting a more cerebral book than The Thursday Murder Club turned out to be. It’s not deep. Set in a retirement village in Kent, the cast of characters are a group of old people who have set up a club looking at old unsolved crimes to try to work out whodunnit (the Thursday Murder Club of the title), two police officers, and a small gang of shady characters including the owner of the retirement village. When members of the shady gang start to be killed, and old bones are discovered, the Thursday Murder Club decide to solve these crimes. I liked how the book had a very positive world view, with most people being basically good and kind and well meaning, and I liked the gentle humour and the relatable conversations between characters about things like which shops make the best cakes and biscuits. There are some very touching moments as the subjects of bereavement and dementia are never far away from the inhabitants of an old people’s home. I got a bit bored in the middle, and found my attention wandering as I listened (although many books, in fact, probably the majority, dip in the middle) but I got back into it towards the end. The audiobook has an interview with Richard Osman by the Irish Author Marian Keyes (which is sick makingly sycophantic) in which he admits that he didn’t do any planning but just made things up as he went along, which is (I’m afraid) fairly obvious from the meandering and not well structured way the plot plays out. Saying that, I think I will buy and read the next book in the series when it’s released, as I did, overall enjoy reading this gentle ‘cosy mystery’ story.

Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead – Olga Tokarczuk and Antonia Lloyd-Jones – 13.09.20

I found this book strangely atmospheric and very readable. Written in Polish by Olga Tokarczuk and translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, it’s the story of an older woman, Janina, who is one of only a small number of people who live all year round in what is normally a Summer cabin in a forested region near the Polish border with the Czech Republic. Her job is to maintain the empty cabins as well as teaching English part-time in the local school. She is passionately concerned with animal rights, and vehemently opposed to the active hunting tradition in the forest near her home. When prominent local men start to die in suspicious circumstances, Janina is convinced their deaths are somehow brought about by the animals seeking revenge for the acts of animal cruelty carried out by these men. I thought the language was very poetic and beautiful, with frequent references to Blake, who’s works Janina is translating with a former pupil. I liked how Janina lives in harmony with the harsh natural climate and l loved the dark humour with which she views the world.

Howard’s End – EM Forster – (AUDIOBOOK) – 10.09.20

Howards End was written in 1910 and set in that contemporary era. It’s a novel that made thoughts boil over in my head as I listened – about the English class system and imperialism and sexism – at times I was so angry with the characters, and not sure whether the writer was sympathetic with one group or another (having just finished I’ve been reading the Spark Notes summaries of the chapters and even they admit that Forsters betrayal of the rights and wrongs of the issues raised are ‘nuanced’). The book follows three families – the Wilcox family: for the most part (in my mind anyway) hateful, arrogant, hypocritical, unimaginative, all round awful upper class prats that typify all that’s wrong with the entitled gentry classes that unfortunately still exist today. The Schlegel family – two young lady daughters and a teenaged son being raised by an aunt, also comfortably well off, but with a much more poetic and thoughtful outlook on life – they want to explore and if possible help with the injustices raised by the class system, while at the same time being pragmatic and realising that they only have the freedom to enjoy art and philosophy because they never need worry about having enough money to get by. And Leonard and Jacky Bast, a married couple from the working classes. Leonard Bast aspires to better himself by reading and visiting cultural events, but at the same time is suspicious and resentful of the very types he is trying to emulate. These three families become entangled in what is (according to the Spark Notes!) a metaphor for the time of upheaval between the old England of rural communities ruled over by landed gentry, and the changing times of industrialisation and more urban living and is a treatise on what effect this may have on the class system. Perhaps because of my modern sensibilities, I found it impossible to see why Margaret Schlegel would agree to marry Henry Wilcox when he was such a hateful chauvinist and she had to hide her greater intelligence in order not to upset his world view of ladies being dim but nice (if a little hysterical). It’s certainly an interesting read (or listen) and I loved the voice of the narrator (Edward Petherbridge) who is terrible posh (which usually puts me off a narrator) but who read with great sensitivity and, I though, gave perfect portrayals of the different characters’ voices, which made the experience very enjoyable.

From a Low and Quiet Sea – Donal Ryan – 08.09.20

Hmmm, what to say about this book… I have mixed feelings. It is clearly well written, with lyrical prose and a richness and depth of characters, but why are the characters all so angry and sad and broken?? My book group read The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan, and I was just looking back at my review, to see that I also found it to be beautifully and interestingly written, but depressing with angry broken characters (!). From a Low and Quiet Sea is divided into four parts. The first three seem to be unconnected novellas each following a different (sad, angry and broken) male character – a syrian refugee, a young Irish man with a broken heart and an older Irish man thinking back over all the terrible things he’s done in his life. In the fourth part the three characters come together and we see that they are in fact connected, which I liked although I see some other reviewers found this to be too forced and sudden. I think I’m glad that I read it, and I feel somewhat enriched by the experience, but I’m also glad that’s over now. (I really like the title though!).

House of Many Ways – Diana Wynne Jones – 06.09.20

I’m still loving Diana Wynne Jones! I wish I could go back in time and introduce my childhood self to these books (not that I don’t love them as an adult, because I do!) because I feel like I should be nostalgic about them as if I did love them as a child. This third installment in the Ingary trilogy focusses on a girl who loves books and discovers she has magical talent (what’s not to love about that?!) Again there is interesting character development, humour and lots of magic and folklore. I realise that I’ve used the word ‘love’ about a million times in this review – terrible writing on my part, maybe, but I’m just saying it like it is, baby. Luckily for me, Diana Wynne Jones wrote lots of books, so I’ll be catching up on lost time and ordering oodles of them from Amazon.

Castle in the Air – Diana Wynne Jones – 04.09.20

This second book in the Ingary trilogy by Diana Wynne Jones initially felt a little different to the first book. If you’ve read C.S Lewis’s Narnia chronicles, then it was like The Horse and his Boy, in that it is set in the same world as the other books in the series, but at first none of the familiar characters seemed to be in the story. With a feel like Arabian Nights, (or Disney’s Aladdin!) the story follows a young man who comes into possession of a Genie and a magic carpet, and falls in love with a princess, but must overcome perils to rescue the object of his affection. I enjoyed the whole book, but especially the ending when the denouement makes everything make more sense! Again I loved how Diana Wynne Jones gives her characters complex personalities with both light and shade, and has a slightly wicked sense of humour!

Utopia Avenue – David Mitchell – (AUDIOBOOK) –03.09.20

Wow – this is a big book. I listened on Audiobook and it took just over 25 hours. It’s the story of a band in the 1960s and follows each of the four band members as well as their manager giving them all a rich and in depth backstory and character development journey. There are many cameo appearances from famous musicians of the era, and although I’ve read some angry reviews on Amazon from people who lived through the sixties that this young whippersnapper born in 1969 didn’t capture accurately the feel of the times or the personalities of the real people, I thought it was fun (I was also born in 1969 and I’m not an aficionado of the 60s music scene!). Each of the five characters had difficulties to overcome, and I really felt like I got to know them and lived the journey with them, and I listened with chortles, gasps and even tears. My favourite character was Jasper de Zoet who is a direct descendant of Jacob de Zoet (from David Mitchell’s novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet). Jasper is a lovely plain speaking man with high functioning autism as well as schizophrenia (or is he actually possessed??). Apparently there were lots of appearances from characters out of David Mitchell’s other novels, and although I have read and loved all of them, my memory for names is so terrible, that a lot of that was lost on me. David Mitchell has said that all of his novels fit together in one huge metanovel, with interwoven themes, plots and characters, but that each can equally be read as a stand alone with no knowledge of the others. Almost every aspect of the human experience is lived through by the characters (and therefore vicariously the reader) from mental illness, suicide attempts, drug abuse, unplanned parenthood, bereavement, family relationships, homosexuality, love, friendship, failure, success, camaraderie, etc, etc, and the cherry on the cake, for me, was the stream of magical realism. I feel like my life has been enriched by listening to this book and I really enjoyed it.

Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones – 01.09.20

I can’t believe I’m only reading my first Diana Wynne Jones novel now, at the age of 51! This is exactly the kind of book I have loved since early childhood, and I have no idea how they managed to pass me by?! This is a dark, witty and thoughtful look at traditional fairytale/fantasy storytelling. I’ve always wanted to watch the film, and never got around to it, although after reading some people’s reviews who have both read the book and seen the film, it seems like the film makes the characters nicer and less complex, and it was the fact that the characters had both light and dark in their personalities that I liked about the novel (or at least that was one of the things I liked!). Once or twice, the book seemed to suddenly burst into an action sequence and I’d get a bit confused and have to stop and read over the previous few pages to get my bearings again, but other than that (and perhaps that’s because I’m getting old, bless me) I loved every minute of it.

Lanny – Max Porter – 27.08.20

Like the fabulous Grief Is a Thing With Feathers, also by Max Porter, this book is a beautiful merging of poetry, prose, magical realism and raw human emotion. It uses the technique (which I had to google but is apparently called concrete or visual poetry) where the arrangement of words on the page is part of the overall artistry of the book. Told with snippets of lots of different voices, including a mythical persona called Dead Papa Toothwort, it introduces a very special, insightful and artistic little boy, Lanny, his parents and a family friend, local controversial artist, Mad Pete, who gives him art lessons. When Lanny goes missing, the worst and best of human nature is brought out both searching for him and blaming and pointing the finger at those closest to him. It’s a lovely thought provoking and moving book.

The Last – Hanna Jameson – 26.08.20

I’m just back from a visit with my daughter and her boyfriend in Wales, and we had the clever idea to swap kindles for the visit and read each other’s books. When flicking through her kindle my finger accidentally lingered on this book which opened it. I started reading, and was instantly hooked. It’s a postapocalyptic novel, with its main protagonist as a middle aged American at a conference in Switzerland when Nuclear war happened. The book follows the few people who didn’t try to flee the remote hotel. With phones and internet down, they have to come to terms with not knowing what’s going on and deciding what to do next. There’s also a bit of a murder mystery as they find the body of a small girl who must have been killed before the bombs. I enjoyed the book and found it a fun holiday read.