These book reviews were copied and pasted in huge chunks from my previous website, so the page might take a while to load, and the chronology is a bit mess up – but hey, who cares about that??
The Light Between Oceans – M. L. Stedman (Kindle Book)
This is a beautifully written and very sad story of good people thrown by circumstances into doing something morally wrong, and then being caught in a horrible dilemma with no easy solution. Set in the dramatic location of an island lighthouse off the coast of Australia, the starkness of the setting echoes the emotional turmoil of the characters. 26/7/13
The Gone Away World – Nick Harkaway (Kindle Book)
I couldn’t tear myself away from reading another Nick Harkaway. I’m reading his books the wrong way round, (not that it matters) as The Gone Away World is his first. It took me a little longer to get into than Angelmaker, and it is less sweet and quirky, but still fabulous. Again, the book has a complex yet easy to follow plot with beautiful structure like a master symphony. This time it’s a bit sci-fi or even horror, with a post-apocalyptic world where thoughts and dreams can become reality with all the terribleness that that would actually realise (think of the island where dreams come true in C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, or the Tooth Fairy’s castle in Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather – and if you haven’t read them, stop reading my blog and go and read them now). I thought I had guessed the twist at the end, but it turned out I had only skimmed the surface of it, and there was enough surprise left to leave me gobsmacked. Like the Angelmaker, the book had bags of heart and soul and like the Angelmaker, there were martial arts and bee themes (I want to write a book with a bee theme – bees are awesome!). 01/08/13
The Cleaner of Chartres – Salley Vickers (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for August, and one that I chose, so I was anxious that it be good! I chose it because I loved some of Salley Vickers’ other books. I don’t know if I loved this book, but I certainly liked it. It was a gentle and pretty read, atmospheric and enjoyable without being gripping or shocking. Set in France and with some nice characters and enough intrigue to keep things moving along and a nice happy ending. It would make a good holiday read, especially if you were holidaying in France. (Even though I still love my kindle, I was a little envious of the book groups members who had the paperback, as it’s a very pretty cover.) 11/08/2013
The Gates – John Connolly (Kindle Book)
I used to read to my children at bedtime, and my youngest, Christy was the last to be read to, but sadly, he didn’t want it any more when he moved up to ‘big school’ six years ago. One of the books that he and I both loved was The book of Lost Things by John Connolly. I think Christy would have loved this book too, maybe when he was mid primary, as it’s gentler and less dark than The Book of Lost Things – definitely a kids book, but still really well written and both funny and genuinely gripping. Maybe I’ll read it to my grandkids one day…. 14//08/13
Crossing – Andrew Xia Fukuda (Kindle Book)
I don’t really know what to make of this book – in some ways it felt a bit Disney/High School musical, and in other ways it was horribly dark and depressing. The issues of a young teen feeling out of place – having a financially struggling single mum and being Asian in a mostly white school were dealt with quite well. I thought the series of unfortunate coincidences which led to the boys ultimate downfall were a bit unbelievable. I do like books where seemingly insignificant things become very significant at the denouement but this one felt like it was stretching credulity just a little too much. Still a pretty good read though. 16/08/2013
The Detective’s Daughter – Lesley Thomson (Kindle Book)
I don’t normally read detective whodunnit type books, because I find them boring (although I quite like watching them on TV) but this one was compared to Kate Atkinson books, which I do like, so I gave it a go. For the first half of the book, I struggled a bit and wondered why I was wasting my life reading a style of book that I just don’t enjoy, but I have to admit that I did get more and more into it towards the end and actually quite liked it overall. 26/08/2013
The Man Who Lived At The End of The World – Robert Davies (Kindle Book)
My first impression of this post apocalyptic novel was that it was over-written and under-edited – too many superfluous adjectives and metaphors (often, less is more) and clumsy writing with overuse of certain words etc. but, saying that, once I got into the story I became more and more impressed with the clever plot structure and sensitive characterisation, and either the writing improved, or I just started to ‘get’ it because by the end I really liked it and thought it was well above many other books of the same genre. 30/08/2013
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (Kindle Book)
My son read this book and raved about it, and figured out how to put it from his kindle on to mine, so I read it and really enjoyed it too. Written more than thirty years ago, the writer is spookily accurate in many of his predictions regarding computers and internet. The book is futuristic sci-fi, set in a time after the Earth has recovered from a devastating alien attack and are working away at being ready if the aliens (named somewhat embarrassingly ‘The Buggers’) come back. The protagonist, Ender, is a small child who is gifted at a kind of virtual reality game used in the child soldier training school. The book has lots of clever and deep things to say about politics and life generally (without being preachy or boring) and the twist at the end was well done and surprised me. I also really liked the epilogue which wrapped things up in a satisfying way. I hope the movie doesn’t ruin it. 04/08/2013
The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier (Kindle Book)
This is a nicely written book about Quakers and quilting and the American Civil Rights movement. I enjoy Tracy Chevalier’s style of writing which shows depth of characters and historical interest without sacrificing plot interest and pacing. 13/09/2013
The Man Who Wasn’t There – Pat Barker (paperback)
This book was recommended by a book group friend, so I bought a second hand copy and gave it a go. It’s more of a novella or long short story than a novel, written from the perspective of a small boy imagining the father he never knew. The main protagonist lives in an imaginary world of spies and espionage and the story he tells in his head is interspersed with and reflects what is happening in his real life. Strangely, I found his made up story more compelling than the ‘real’ story, but maybe that was the point? 20/09/2013
The Night Rainbow – Claire King (kindle book)
I loved the title of this book, which is why I bought it. Set in France and told from the point of view of a small girl whose father has recently died and whose pregnant mother is losing the plot, I found the naive voice at times a little jarring and annoying. Saying that, it held my interest, and I didn’t see the plot twist coming, even though there were major clues which niggled at me as I read, so that was cleverly done. I liked the ending. 28/09/2013
Galapagos – Kurt Vonnagut (kindle Book)
Wow! Now this book I loved! Narrated by a ghost from the distant future who didn’t interact with the characters, but gave clever, funny and oddball observations and predictions which carried the plot with great verve. I can’t put my finger on what I loved so much. The book is set on an ill-fated cruise which coincided with a culmination of events leading ultimately to mankind’s almost extinction. The characters are interesting and rounded and the writing just flows effortlessly. I haven’t read anything else by Kurt Vonnegut, but now I want to. 05/10/2013
The Cry – Helen FitzGerald (Kindle Book)
I don’t know why I keep getting taken in by the kindle deal of the day on Amazon and buying books that I know I’m not going to like. I’m like Charlie Brown always believing the little girl is not going to take away the football at the last minute (ask your parents, if you don’t get that reference) and I get taken in by the glowing reviews saying this one is clever and deep etc. I’m sure lots of people like this kind of thing, but I’m not one of them. The book is about a young couple whose baby tragically dies due to an accident, and they try to cover up by pretending he was snatched from their car. Okay, but too much plot and not enough depth for my taste. 15/10/2013
The Twin – Gerbrand Bakker (Kindle Book)
Reading this book after The Cry was like coming home after having to spend the day chatting to weird people – as soon as I started reading I though, yes, now this is a well written book. Set in Holland, the bleak landscape is a much a character as the long dead twin, and the surviving twin, Helmer who narrates the story. Helmer has lived most of his life trying to replace his brother, putting aside his own dreams to fill the void. As his aging father nears death, it is finally time for Helmer to start making choices for himself, from redecorating the farm house, to going travelling and meeting up with old forbidden friends. It was my book group read for October, and I’m very pleased Sheila suggested this book (it was recommended to her by her favourite bookseller from the No Alibis bookshop in Belfast). 20/10/2013
The Uncommon Appeal Of Clouds – Alexander McCall Smith (Kindle Book)
I’ve had this book on my Kindle for a while, but tended to chose others over it as I was getting a bit bored of A. McC S but when I did finally read it I actually really enjoyed it. It’s lighter and more optimistic than The Twin, while still being well written and thought provoking. I’m a bit late writing this up (it’s well into December as I’m writing this), and I’m struggling to remember what actually happened, but I do remember being surprised by how much I enjoyed it! 27/10/2013
The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year – Sue Townsend (paperback)
I loved this book. It was funny and sweet without being sickly or too obvious, which I sure is a mark of the genius of Sue Townsend’s writing. I found most of the cast of characters sympathetic or at least understandable and believable and the book actually did make me laugh out loud and cry real tears. I want to read more by Sue Townsend now. 2/11/2013
Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (Kindle Book)
This was an interesting book, which I found very enjoyable to read. It cleverly juxtaposes modern computer technology with ancient societies and treasure hunt type clue solving and manages to pull it off really convincingly. Hats off to Robin Sloan for a clever idea well executed. 05/11/2013
Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett (Hardback Book)
I bought the hardback version of this, even though I love reading books on the kindle, because I have a shelf of Discworld books and wanted the complete collection. I love TP and couldn’t wait for this book. It feels very disloyal to say anything bad about a Terry Pratchett book, but this one didn’t delight me as much as others, and at times it was even a chore to read. It’s still a good book, and so much better than many other books, but not, to me at least, up to the standard of others in the series (although way better than not having a new Discworld book, and I hope there are more to come). 30/11/2013
Monsignor Quixote – Graham Green (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for December. I would never have thought of reading this book were it not my book group read, but surprisingly I really enjoyed it. Based on Don Quixote by Cervantes (which I haven’t read but I looked up on Wikipedia to get the gist of) it’s a lovely gentle and yet thought provoking story about faith and conviction vs the unfeeling establishment be it religious or political. A road trip by two friends, a naive but well meaning priest and his friend the ex-mayor and communist party member leads to some hilarious scenarios with brothels and police chases and kidnapping. Lots of fun! 3/12/2013
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jan-Philipp Sendker (Kindle Book)
I initially thought I wasn’t going to like this book, the writing style annoyed my – I’m not sure why, I maybe felt too forced or too obvious or something, but I did actually get really drawn in to the story and found myself coming round to the writing style once I’d got used to it. It’s the story of a modern day American woman tracing her father’s tragic life story in Burma, discovering for the first time that he spent much of his young life blind from cataracts. (I just looked on Amazon and learned that the book is a translation from some other language, which could explain the strange style). It was worth persevering with. 10/12/2013
John Saternall’s Feast – Lawrence Norflok (Kindle Book)
At first I found this book very confusing and didn’t know what the heck was going on, but once I got my head around it, I found it very readable. Set in medieval England, a woman whose knowledge of herbs and plants for use in midwifery and cookery made the townsfolk run her off as a witch, taught the mysteries of ‘the feast’ which basically meant fancy cooking to her son who ended up head chef in some big manor house/castle type place. I liked the bits about cooking, and the relationships etc, but I got bored with all the talk of fighting and war stuff (I’m a girl, okay!). Overall a good book. 15/12/2013
The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Pasi Llmari Jääskeläinen (Kindle Book)
This book was translated from Finnish, which was interesting, as different cultures and languages tend to have different literary styles. I could relate pretty well the the style and the characters, although the plot was a little odd. Set in a small town where a revered famous children’s author had historically taken on mentors to train up as the next generation of writers. The story is told by the latest recruit to the society who discovers strange and unsettling things about the group. Part mystery, part horror with undertones of magical realism and ghost stories, it was a pretty compelling if slightly unsettling read. 20/12/2013
Fortunately The Milk – Neil Gaiman (Kindle Book)
This was super cheap on Amazon, and I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman, so I bought it even though it is very much a kids book. It’s a fun and imaginative story which I might try reading aloud to a class of upper primary school kids if the situation arises (I’m working as a substitute teacher at the moment to try and pay some bills). The kindle book had some extra features eg Neil Gaiman reading the book aloud, and some videos of Chris Riddell the illustrator doing the drawings which didn’t work on my Kindle paperwhite, but did work on my kindle app on my new iPad which was a present from my mum (thanks Mum! I love it) 21/12/2013
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert (Kindle Book)
This is a fabulous book! It’s the first book I’ve read in ages that I literally didn’t want to put down, and I yearned to get back to it when I had to put it down. It’s a long and wide reaching life story, beginning with the childhood of the main character’s father, so we really understand where she comes from. Her father was a poor petty criminal child who stole plants from Kew Gardens in London in the 17th century but impressed the gentleman owner with his self taught knowledge of botany, so was sent on ships around the world to look for rare plants. He made a fortune discovering and marketing plants for use in pharmaceuticals and settled in America with a Dutch wife (because he admired the work ethic of the Dutch!) and had his daughter, the main protagonist of the novel. She was intelligent and hard working and became a rare female scientist studying plants, specifically mosses. Her life story was rife with disappointments in love and is truly tragic and moving. The book is beautifully written and very cleverly constructed and I enjoyed reading it very much. 04/01/2014
The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Gilbraith (J.K. Rowling) (Kindle Book)
There’s a certain type of detective whodunnit book that I really like – for example I loved the Kate Atkinson Jackson Brodie books, and I love many of the classics like Dorothy Sayers Peter Wimsey books, but generally I hate modern ‘bestseller’ books in this genre. I did like The Cuckoo’s Calling quite a lot, but I can’t for the life of me decide if I liked it so much because I knew it was by J.K. Rowling (who can’t write a word wrong, as far as I’m concerned) or if I’d have liked it so much if I’d never heard of this Robert Gilbraith chap? I did find the plot a little confusing, although it all came together in the end. I mostly enjoyed the character development of the detective and his new ‘temporary’ secretary. I’ll definitely be reading the next instalment! 10/01/2014
(My blinking cat just walking across my keyboard and deleted a bunch of stuff I’d just typed in! I can’t figure out how to get it back so I’ll have to just do it again. grrr. One day the other cat sat on my keyboard and managed to turn my monitor display sideways – I had to go and get my son to come and fix it for me. They regularly open up powerpoints and type gibberish into them – are they trying to tell me something?)
The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown (Paperback)
Both The Cuckoo’s Calling and the new Dan Brown book were going cheap on kindle in the Amazon January sale so I bought them, then realised that I hadn’t read the previous Dan Brown, and since it wasn’t cheap on kindle I ordered it as a second hand paperback (gotta watch those pennies!). What can I say? Typical Dan Brown, I guess, quite exciting, but spoiled by how everything is explained, and then explained again, and then, in case the hard of thinking in the back didn’t quite catch it, it’s explained again. I’m like, yes, I get it, please move on. It did make me feel more sympathetic toward free-masons (bless them, they just want peace and love) and I guess I mostly enjoyed it. I was slightly annoyed by the physical book being so bulky in my hands (I’m so in love with my kindle) and despite the condition being described as ‘excellent’ by the seller, having a spine that was broken in at least two places and kept flopping open strangely. 18/01/2014
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens (Kindle Book)
I was talking to a friend recently about our favourite Dickens books (mine are Bleak House and A Tale Of Two Cities) and he said David Copperfield was not only his favourite Dickens, but in his opinion one of the best books ever written. Wow, I thought, I should read this one. I don’t know if I just wasn’t in a Dickens mood, or if it’s because I’m quite cross with Dickens having heard about him leaving his wife and mother of his lots of children for a nineteen year old actress when he was 45, but I didn’t warm to this book. I got bored in the middle, and in light of what I now know about the writer, I found the saccharine goodness of his heroes to be hypocritical and just made me crosser. There were some very funny characters and laugh out loud moments though, and the ending was pretty satisfying (or was I just glad it was finally over?) 14/02/2014
The End Of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe (Kindle Book)
I generally only read fiction and really don’t like biographies or memoirs, so I probably wouldn’t have bought this if I’d have realised what it was, which is the memoir of the last months in the life of a elderly lady dying of cancer told from the perspective of her son, Will, who went to her chemo sessions with her where they talked about the books they’d recently read and ended up agreeing to read the same books and discuss them like it was a book group. I’m really glad I started reading it under false pretences, because I very much enjoyed the book on many levels. Firstly, my own dad was in the end stages of his battle with cancer as I read it (he passed away just a week ago as I write this) so a lot of the emotions that the writer went through struck real chords with me. Also, many of the books they talked about are books that I have read and loved and I really got what they said about them (or felt that they ‘got’ me, even though we’d never met) and I was very excited about some of the books they discussed which I had either never heard of or had just never read, and I intend to read as many of them as I can get my hands on. 18/02/2014
Big Machine – Victor LaValle (Kindle Book)
This is the first of my ‘recommended by the end of your life book club’ books and boy is it a doozy! It is a book I’d never heard of, although apparently it was a big New York Times best seller (which reaffirms my faith in the American people!). It is a very strange book in just the way I like. It’s weird like an episode of Lost, with magical realism, angels/demons and switching beliefs in who’s the good guys and who’re the baddies. With a really flawed but likeable main protagonist and a galloping (if at times baffling, in a good way) plot, I loved it! I don’t think it would be to everyone’s taste, and not one for the easily offended as there are references to sex, drugs, and natty dressing as well as digs at organised religion and some nasty violence (although not too much or it would have put me off too.) 22/02/2014
Death At La Fenice – Donna Leon (Paperback)
This is my second ‘recommended by the end of your life book club’ books. There are a few murder mystery writer that I like, such as old classics like Dorothy Sayers and the occasional Agatha Christie, as well as Kate Atkinson and the new series by JK Rowling (under that pseudonym) but mostly I hate the genre. The nice old lady in the end of your life book club said this book did for Venice what the No 1 ladies detectives did for Botswana, so I decided to give it a try. I’m not sure if I’m totally sold, but I liked all the Italian references and I’m intrigued enough by the main character that I want to read the next one or two in the series before I decide whether or not to give up on them. 28/02/2014
Homestead – Rosina Lippi (paperback)
This was an impulse buy, or rather, the best I could find in the charity shop at the time. I was in town, trawling the charity shops to buy suit jackets for my teenage sons to wear to their Grandad (my Dad’s) funeral, and I had neglected to bring my kindle with me, but I needed to have a sit down and a bite to eat (and couldn’t contemplate sitting in a cafe without a book!) so I bought this from the shop where I got a nice dark grey jacket for oldest son. It looked more ‘literary’ than the array of thrillers and corset busters they had on offer, and it was. The book is beautifully written, with slow atmospheric wording matching the main protagonist which is the setting – a small Austrian mountain village. The book spans a period of just over seventy years, and each chapter follows a different character at a different point of time. I can see the artistic merit in the style, but for me, it felt too much like short stories and I’m not a fan of such. I like a narrative thread to keep me hooked, and this really didn’t have it. Great though, if you like well written ‘slice of life’ type stories. 3/03/2014
Continental Drift – Russell Banks (Paperback)
This is my third of the ‘recommended by The End Of Your Life Book Club’ books. I think I’d have really liked the lady from that book because even though she was elderly and a devout christian, she was not offended by books with real nitty gritty characters and language, sex etc. Not that I look for those things in a book, just that it would be a pity to miss great writing because of tut tutting over content like that. She described this book as ‘the most depressing thing I’ve ever read’ but still recommended it to lots of friends because of the great writing. Following two main characters, one an American man, the other a Haitian woman, the book is a series of foolish decisions, bad luck and consequences and life for both characters just goes from bad to worse until the tragic ending. I would agree that it is depressing but worth reading. I’m looking for more books by this writer. 17/03/2014
The Minor Adjustments Beauty Salon – Alexander McCall Smith (Kimdle Book)
What can I say – lovely Mma Ramotswe , lovely Botswana, typical lyrical gently storytelling. I’ll never tire of the No 1 Ladies.18/03/2014
The Van – Roddy Doyle (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for March, and I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise (or I might have started it and given up). There is a lot of swearing. I know I just said in my review of Continental Drift that I admired people who aren’t put off good books because of language etc, but this is wild – pretty much every other word in parts is eff this or worse! We recently had a run in with the neighbours from ‘the estate’ whose garden backs onto ours when our tree blew into their garden during the storms. There was a lot of shouting and effing and threatening physical violence (from them to us – we just whimpered a bit), and my husband’s colleague, who grew up on a similar estate told us not to worry, it was just the normal way to deal with stress. Right enough, when standing at the bus stop with people from ‘the estate’ they do seem to use the eff word pretty much more than any other, even when they’re not at all cross. I know I sound very middle class and judgemental, but I guess I am what I am, and most of the books I read are written by equally (or more so) middle class people, so a genuine ‘working class’ Irish voice is a rare thing in a book, and if they swear constantly in the book, I guess it’s because they swear constantly in real life. Because it was my book group book, I kept reading and once I got past my inward tutting over the swearing, and got the know the characters it was a good human drama with interesting characters with feelings and insecurities not unlike my own. The book was very funny in parts as well, although because it relied very heavily on dialogue it felt a little shallow in places, more like a screenplay than a novel. 26/03/14
Perfect – Rachel Joyce (Kindle Book)
This is the new book by the writer of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which I loved and recommended to all my friends (my Mum just read it and loved it too for her first night at her new book club). This book has dual threads one which follows two childhood friends and unravels the traumatic even that shaped them, and the other which meets them again during adulthood and shows how the effects have moulded them. There’s kind of a twist which I kind of worked out before the reveal (although not completely) but I still really enjoyed getting to know the characters and the lovely writing. Good book. 30/03/2014
The Shock Of The Fall – Nathan Filer (Kindle Book)
This book, like Perfect which I read just before it, is about mental health, and childhood trauma and the relationship between the two. For me, it suffered by following such a good book which I loved so much, so I inevitably compared the two, and for me this one came up lacking. Saying that, I did persevere with it, and once I got used to the strange narrative style (which is strange because the book is supposed to be the slightly mad ramblings of the main character as therapy while he is in a psychiatric hospital and therefore the strangeness is valid) I did grow to like it more and more, and see that it was unfair of me to compare the two just because they share the same subject because the styles are so different but equally commendable. 6/04/2014
Brilliance – Marcus Sakey (Kindle Book)
This is not the kind of book I would normally like, and yet I really did enjoy reading this (mostly). It’s a futuristic thriller set in a world thirty years on from a gene mutation which occurred in one percent of the population producing individuals with savant abilities without the mental illness or limitations that go along with some types of autism (hence the term ‘idiot savant’) ie, they could see huge calculations as if they are obvious, or remember everything, or notice everything in a room or read patterns very well etc, which made them able to crack any computer system and crash the stock exchange and basically out-compete the normal people, and a kind of terrorist led civil war is beginning. The book follows a good guy who goes deep undercover to fight the bad guys but there’s all kind of grey areas so he has to decide who the good guys really are. The slightly annoying part was the beautiful male and female protagonists inevitably falling into each other’s beds, but hey, it’s American. 12/04/2014
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood (Kindle Book)
I love this trilogy by Margaret Atwood that started with Oryx and Crake and The Year of The Flood and I couldn’t wait for this third instalment. Thankfully the book began with a summary of the previous two volumes, as it’s been a while since I read them and I’d forgotten loads (I really should have re-read them just before reading this one, but I was too impatient!). This book is at least as good as the other two. It follows the new society of humans and the bioengineered Crakers in the post apocalyptic world trying to make a new life and work together. It’s optimistic without being cloying and funny yet sad, strange yet fabulous! I loved it and missed it when I finished reading. 14/04/2014
The Crow Road – Iain Banks (Kindle Book)
Oh dear. My opinion of this book probably suffered by having read it after the fabulous MaddAddam, but I just couldn’t warm to it. I didn’t really like any of the characters, who all seemed to drink so much it’s a wonder they didn’t all die of liver disease. The family mystery that underpinned the plot didn’t really excite me, and when the reveal finally came all I thought was well that’s that out of the way at last. It wasn’t badly written, and it’s probably a worthy book, just not my cup of tea. 25/04/2014
An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful – J. David Simons (Kindle Book)
I didn’t instantly love this book, but it grew on my until I did like it a lot. An elderly writer returns to Japan where he lived for a time as a young man and where he wrote his breakthrough novel. Flashbacks from his youth at the tail end of WWII, and throughout his life intersperse with present day events and weave the tail of a life of success but also of loneliness and regret. The ending is sad but fitting. 2/05/2014
(The First half of…)The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon (paperback)
This is another End of Your Life Book Club recommendation, which I bought as a second hand paperback because it was cheaper than the kindle version. Big mistake. The paperback copy I have is quite chunky (so hard to hold for my wee arthritic hands) and the print is small (so hard to read for my aging and never very good to begin with eyesight) which coloured my opinion of the book unfairly. I’m actually really enjoying the writing style and the plot and characters, however I stopped reading half way through, because I got into a panic about getting my book group book read in time (as it happens I got the dates mixed up, so I would have been alright) but now I’ve got distracted with other kindle books, and I’m reluctant to return to chunky tiny print but good Kavalier and Clay (I’m writing this about a month after the fact). It’s a pity, because the book is rich and funny and tragic and real and I must force myself to go back to caveman days and read a real paper book, and I will, after a few nice kindle books…..10/05/2014
The Secret History – Donna Tartt (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for June, and I was really looking forward to it. I have never read Donna Tartt before, but heard so many good things that I was glad to give her a go. I’m not sure what I expected, but The Secret History surprised me by being different to the vague notion I had of what it would be like. It took me a while (perhaps because of this wrongfooting) to get into the book, but once I did I was proper hooked. The style reminded me of The Great Gatsby, and in fact after I’d thought that, the main character tells us that it’s one of his favourite books. The story it told from the point of view of the ‘everyman’ who tries and fails to fit in either with his working class uneducated family, or the group of elitist wealthy classics students he finds himself a part of. A lot of the plot hangs on this need to fit in and how weaker characters will follow charismatic leaders even to the brink of destruction. I’m interested to see what the rest of the book group thought. (Book group got postponed until 20th June, so I’ll write it up in the ‘my book group reads’ section of the website sometime after that.) 20/05/2014
The Unexpected Vacation of George Thring – Alastair Puddick (Kindle Book)
This was the Amazon Kindle Deal of The Day, which is always a gamble – some have paid off in spades, others, not so much. I really wanted to like this book, I love the title, and the premise, and I liked the first chapter which introduced the affable but slightly pathetic (in an endearing way) George Thring. The plot quickly became utterly ridiculous, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, and other books have carried off a silly plot with great writing. Sadly not this one. Perhaps Mr Puddick should try his had at children’s writing, where obvious painfully over-explained ultra simple writing may be a strength. The writing style is to subtlety what boulder throwing is to needlework. I finished the book, and didn’t totally hate it, but it could have been so much better with a bit more style. 30/05/2014
Americanah – Chinamanda Ngozi Adichie (Kindle Book)
I loved Adichie’s other books, and this one was recommended by one of my book group buddies, so I gave it a go. I liked it a lot to begin with (which could be that lovely satisfying feeling of starting a book by a great writer after reading a book by a less-than-great-writer – like stepping into a perfectly warm bath) but kind of half way through I felt a bit like I was being preached at, and it was one of those books you feel you ought to read rather than you want to read. Saying that, I think it picked up a bit again towards the end, and I missed the book when it was over, which is always a good sign. 12/06/2014
Tigerman – Nick Harkaway (Kindle Book)
I love, love, love Nick Harkaway. The plot of this book, about a retired shell-shocked soldier who turns vigilante against a corrupt group of crime king pins on a remote island would have totally turned me off, and there’s no way I’d have read it if I didn’t love everything else by this man so much. The writing is so skillful and deft and the characterisation so believable and wonderfully sympathetic that I even enjoyed the fighty actiony bits. The sergeant’s character reminded me of Sam Vimes of Discworld fame when Terry Pratchett was absolutely on the top of his game which is about as high as praise can get from me. I probably didn’t love this as much as the other Harkaways I’ve read, but that’s like saying getting given a million pounds wouldn’t be quite as good as getting a million and ten pounds (ie, I still really loved it). I hope Nick Harkaway hurries up and writes many more fabulous books. 16/06/2014
Bertie’s Guide To Life And Mothers – Alexander McCall Smith (Kindle Book)
I’m a bit late writing up my books (again!) and I’m struggling to remember much about this one. I do like Alexander McCall Smith’s writing, which is formulaic, but in a comforting, if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it kind of way. I guess the genius of it is that one feels a fondness and attachment to the characters, like catching up with old friends. Some of the storylines (as ever in this series) were a little far fetched (Bertie’s mother being mistaken for the wife of a Sheik for instance) but it’s sweet and I have enough of a sweet tooth that I’ll keep coming back for more. 18/06/2014
The Long Mars – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (Kindle Book)
I loved the first two books in the series, but I thought this one was a little lacking. The first book had the advantage of setting the scene, and the novelty of the parallel universe premise, which this one doesn’t, but I like that the books go beyond that to the what happens next, how does normal life reassert itself. I think I missed Lobsang, the artificial intelligence/reincarnated Tibetian motorcycle repairman, who was a very witty character, who was in this book, but not as much as in the others. I’ll still keep reading the books as long as new ones keep coming out though. 24/06/2014
The Silkworm – Roberth Galbraith (Kindle Book)
This book, and The Long Mars were birthday presents to myself, because I love the writers and what I read is usually dictated by what’s going cheap on Amazon, so it’s a rare treat to be able to chose a book I really want. This is the second in the private detective series by JK Rowling. As with the first one, I got a bit confused about who was who and what was going on for a while but eventually got my head around it. The reveal in this book was so well done that I didn’t see it coming, but when it did it seemed so obvious. Not one to read if you’re very offended by bad language, but if you can see past that, I find these books very readable, with likable but complex main characters.30/06/2014
Every Dead Thing (Charlie Parker Collection) – John Conolly (Kindle Book)
When I still used to read bedtime stories to my son Christy, (oh cruel time, to tear our children from us) we both very much enjoyed The Book Of Lost Things, by John Connolly, so when Amazon had the first four books in this thriller detective series going cheap, I gave it a go. Although the writer is Irish, the book is set in America and has, to me at least, an authentic American feel to it. It kind of blurs the genre lines between mystery/thriller/supernatural horror and mostly grabbed my attention (which is saying a lot because generally action books bore me). A little gruesome in places, but having read Connolly before, I knew to expect that. I’ll read the other three books at some point, but with a bit of a break in between. 10/07/2014
Tell The Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt (Kindle Book)
This book must have been the kindle deal of the day on Amazon at some point in the past, because it’s been on my kindle for a while and I’d forgotten what it was about, but read it because I loved the title. If I’d have known it was an American young adult fiction book that would have put me off, and I’m glad it didn’t because I found this book really compelling and I thought it was wonderfully written. The writer, though American, lives in England, and although the book has been classed as young adult, she sees it as adult fiction. It’s a coming of age story, set in the eighties about a young teen who’s beloved uncle dies of AIDS and who befriends his lover who she hadn’t known the existence of before and who is also dying of AIDS. I found the characters really believable and empathetic and I could identify especially with the main character, June, on lots of levels. The complexity of family relationships is handled deftly and sympathetically and the plot is believable yet enthralling enough to keep you hooked. 16/07/2014
SlaughterHouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut (Kindle Book)
I really enjoy the odd (odd is an understatement) madcap black humour of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing. This book is nominally about the experience of a group of American men in the second world war in Germany, although true to Vonneguts style, one of the characters randomly hops about through time in his own life, including a period where he is abducted by aliens and kept in a zoo with a beautiful young woman so aliens can watch them procreate. I didn’t love it as much as Galapagos, but I still liked it a lot. 23/7/14
Beware of Pity – Stefan Zweig (Kindle Book)
This book was written in 1939 by an Austrian Jew, and is set during the first world war. The main character is a young soldier who makes a faux pas at a party by asking a young crippled girl to dance, and feels so guilty he starts to visit and send gifts. His actions are misconstrued as courtship by the girl and her family, and things go from bad to worse. The writing is often profound, and many passages are worth remembering and quoting, however the writing is of the ‘more is more’ or ‘why say in one paragraph what you could spend several chapters saying’ school of thought, which made me a little impatient at times. Still, it was a worthy and fairly enjoyable read with a tragic ending. 18/8/14
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler (Kindle Book)
I enjoyed reading this contemporary family drama with an interesting twist. 23/8/14
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut (Kindle Book)
More vintage Vonnegut craziness, this time set on a fictional island state with it’s own religion (with lots of wise teachings included in the book) and facing certain destruction. 3/9/14
Cider With Rosie – Laurie Lee (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for September, and I’ve written up what the other book group ladies thought of it (everyone loved it). I loved lots of things about it too; the poetic language, the sense of nostalgia, the aspects of family life that everyone can identify with, but I do have to admit to getting a bit bored by it about half way through (shame on me) – I did get back into it, and was sorry when it ended though. 3/9/14
Dark Hollow (Charlie Parker Collection) – John Connolly (Kindle Book)
I quite liked the first book in this series, but I have to admit I found this one a bit of a chore to read. It had a lot of fighting and gun fighting and describing what type of guns people were using, and what type of bullets, and what damage these bullets did etc, and for me there are few things more boring than stats about guns, it was also quite gory, and I didn’t think the plot was as strong as in the first book. I like the characters of Charlie Parker’s two friends though.
The Garden Of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (Kindle Book)
This book was much more to my taste. Set in Malaysia, it is told from the point of view of a Chinese Malaysian woman who has just retired as a judge due to showing the first signs of a type of dementia. She decides to write a memoir of her life, so we learn about her life piecemeal, jumping through time like a jigsaw puzzle finally coming together only when all the pieces are in place. She was taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese as a teenager, and her sister died in the same camp. After the war, she has a relationship with a Japanese gardener which is at first distrustful, but then healing. There are lots of interesting facts about Chinese, Malaysian and Japanese culture, and I found it a beautiful, compelling and enjoyable read. 27/9/14
The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion (Kindle Book)
I don’t know why I always seem to identify with characters who are to some degree on the autistic spectrum (!) but there are many books I’ve really enjoyed with autistic protagonists, and this is one of them (another that instantly springs to mind is The Language of Others by the wonderful Clare Morrall – but not the dire and dismal House Rules by Jodi-can-you-every-write-anything-original-Picoult). The main character is a lovely say-it-as-it-is autistic genetics academic in search of love (because statistically, men in steady relationships life longer). By accident and misadventure, he finds the very different, but equally loveable Rosie, and romance ensues. I liked it a lot. 30/9/14
The Dirty Parts Of The Bible – Sam Torode (Kindle Book)
I had a love-it/hate-it/quite-like-it relationship with this book. I thought it opened well, and I was hooked pretty quickly, and then it started to irritate me and it seemed like every cliche possible to put into an all American coming of age novel had been thrown in – naive small town boy with religious upbringing doesn’t realise he’s going into a brothel (really) and then has all his money stolen (yes he did) so he decides to ride the rails and befriends a wise old ethnic guy (you couldn’t make this up- oh wait, yes you could, without too much effort). I stuck with it, and felt mildly interested in the characters development. I can’t remember now how it ended… (to be fair, I’m two months late in writing this up, and my memory is not great, so it’s not necessarily the books fault that I forgot the ending.) 7/10/14
How Dogs Love Us – A Neuroscientist And His Dog Decode The Canine Brain – Gregory Berns (Kindle Book)
I rarely read non-fiction, but I really got hooked by this book. A guy who did research using functional brain scans on humans, to see which parts of the brain light up when we do/or think about certain things, decided to train his dog to lie still while looking at or smelling certain things so he could do functional dog brain scans. A lot of the book was about the training process, and the upshot was that when dogs smell urine or sweat (ew) from their human family members, the same part of the brain lights up as when humans are shown photos of people they love – so he’s proven by science that our dogs really do love us :-). 15/10/14
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson (Kindle Book)
I had not planned to read this trilogy, thinking it would not be my cup of tea, but it was recommended by the lady in The End Of Your Life Book Club, and since I seem to have overlapping taste with her, I caved and gave it a go. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I found the writing engaging and the plot and character development interesting and compelling. I watched the movie after reading the book (the original foreign one) and thought that was pretty good too, although the film left out the bits where the journalist guy jumped into bed with pretty much anyone. 21/10/14
The Girl Who Played With Fire – Steig Larsson (Kindle Book)
More Steig Larsson fun. I thought this one started quite slow, but it did pick up and was once again exciting and compelling.1/11/14
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest – Steig Larsson (Kindle Book)
Perhaps it was a mistake to read all three books in a row like this (although if I don’t do that with book series, I forget who everyone is) because I was getting a bit sick of it all by this book. There didn’t seem to be any new plot, just a very long epilogue from the story which was pretty much sewn up at he end of book two. I was good to get more closure, I guess, but it felt far too dragged out – some snippy editing might have helped. I guess when something is very successful, people think they can get away with dragging it out. 8/11/14
Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for December, and probably wouldn’t have been a book I’d have read otherwise. In the form of letters sent from one sister to another over a period of a couple of years (I think) and supposedly actual letters not a novel (although I don’t believe that, unless the letter writer was planning to publish all along – too self concious to be real letters). Although it was set during the era when I grew up, I didn’t identify with any of the characters, or the mood or anything really. Lots of name dropping too. Didn’t really like it. 13/11/14
The True Tale Of The Monster Billy Dean – David Almond (Hardback)
I’ve always enjoyed David Almond books because they are quite original and often odd (in a good way). This one like his others was somewhat disturbing and dark, and somewhat otherworldy which is why I liked it. Set in a post apocalyptic world where secrets and superstition merge with reality until we don’t know which is which, it is the story of boy hidden from birth coming of age and emerging into the strange world he’s never known. 18/11/14
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton (Kindle Book)
I enjoyed this historical novel set in 17th Century Amsterdam – I liked the writing style, and felt quite sympathetic towards the characters. About a young girl sent off to an arranged marriage having to find her place in the household full of secrets and bad feeling. One aspect of the book I particularly liked was the almost magical way the mysterious miniaturist sent packages to the young bride of models that showed an uncanny knowledge of the intimate happenings of her household -I felt this part of the story wasn’t properly resolved (unless I missed something – I do occasionally fall asleep when reading, and then I might get a bit muddled about what I’ve read and what I haven’t!). I liked the ending. On the whole I wasn’t blown away, but still an enjoyable read. 4/12/14
The Boy That Never Was – Karen Perry (Kindle Book)
This was one of those Kindle deal of the day 99p books so I thought I’d give it a go (I’ve found some real gems that way – and some duds!) It’s not the kind of book I really like – a thriller/relationship drama about a couple who’s small son is missing presumed dead in Morocco. It reminded me of the TV drama The Missing, because while the mother was staring to move on with her life after several years, the father was obsessed with the notion that the boy might still be alive and he has to find him. I didn’t hate it as much as I often hate this type of book, so from me that’s praise indeed!. 25/12/14
The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe – Alexander McCall Smith (Kindle Book)
I’m a sucker for the books about Mma Ramotswe and friends and as long as A McC S keeps writing them, I’ll keep buying them! I love the gentle philosophical musings and the sweet characterisations, and I don’t care that they’re all pretty much the same, in fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way! 30/12/14
The Rosie Effect – Graene Simsion (Kindle Book)
I loved The Rosie Project, so I was looking forward to reading this book which continues the story of Don and Rosie the seemingly miss-matched but lovely couple who got together in first book. It took me a while to get into this instalment, and I wondered if it had fallen prey to ‘the rule of the sequel’ (my husband’s oft mentioned theory that sequels are always rubbish, which is I have to admit, at least sometimes, true). After sticking with it, though, I did feel more and more drawn in and actually ended up feeling gripped and satisfied with the ending. I don’t know if any more are planned, but if I see them I guess I’ll buy them and read them. 5/1/15
The Invention Of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for January. (You can read what we all thought about it in My Book Group Reads.) The book is set in America before the Civil War, and is about slavery, and women’s rights, and the influence of the church and society in shaping peoples views on what is acceptable and what isn’t. The book is mostly based on a true story, (which I didn’t realise until after reading it) and is told from the points of view of a slave owner turned abolitionist and her former childhood slave. It’s a really enjoyable and interesting read with sympathetic characters and lots of insight into the terrible things that happened in those times. 15/1/15
The Ballad Of Mo and G – Billy Keane (Kindle Book)
I really loved this book. It is an example of how great the Irish can be at black humour (If you liked In Bruges or Calvary you’ll love it). I found the narrator totally sympathetic, I felt like I knew, loved and understood him from the very start. He’s telling the story of the girl he’s always loved who is married to a terrible abusive criminal husband, but turns to him as a friendly ear to share her troubles. The book is shocking and disturbing at times, but with moments that made me literally laugh out loud. I carried my kindle about with me for the two days it took me to read it so I could snatch every available few minutes to read some more. I hope Billy Keane writes more like this. 17/1/15
Lila – Marilynne Robinson (Kindle Book)
I remember being totally blown away by Marilynne Robinson’s first book, Housekeeping way back in the late eighties when I was doing my A levels at Kitson College in Leeds, and telling everyone on my course about how much I loved it and them all looking at me funny (I was doing science A levels!). I didn’t love Home or Gilead as much, but this book, Lila takes me back to that blown away feeling of totally loving a book and feeling such synchronicity with the characters (that’s probably not the right word, but I like the sound of it so I’m keeping it – I just meant sympathy, I guess, or kinship). I really liked how both main characters were so scared of sharing their true feelings, and so sweet and gentle while still being crippled by their reticence, I loved the gentle unlikely love story, and how going through bad things can leave a person scarred but they can still be good people, and noble and they can still find and give love. I’m a few weeks late writing this up (as usual!) and I’m still missing this beautiful book. 30.1.15
Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey (Kindle Book)
I enjoy reading this book. It’s a clever mystery written from the perspective of a sufferer of Alzheimer’s who is remembering snippets of the disappearance of her sister from her childhood while finding herself in the middle of a similar missing person case in the present day as her best friend Elizabeth seems to have vanished. Both mysteries remain unsolved until the end of the book when they unexpectedly collide with a satisfying ending for the reader at least, although we fear that the narrator will forget the outcome that she managed to unravel. 9.2.15
The Book Of Strange New Things – Michel Faber (Kindle Book)
I didn’t really know anything about this book before I read it, so I hadn’t realised that it was a sci-fi alien encounter type book. Not that that would have put me off, it just came as a bit of a surprise. It was better not to know, because there was a time while the reader didn’t know what big step the main character was about to take (sorry, I’ve spoiled that for you now, if you are thinking of reading it – forget everything I just said, it’s really about a librarian in Dudley). I found this to be a very interesting and enjoyable book – not fast moving, but thoughtful and atmospheric, if a little depressing to see the journey of the lovely sincere Christian couple when faced with various trial and tribulations that came their way. It was a book that lingered in my mind when I wasn’t reading, and it ended up being carried about with me so I could snatch every available minute of reading time. 14.02.15
A Vision Of Fire – Gillian Anderson (Kindle Book)
I think Gillian Anderson is a fine actress, and I liked the premise of her first novel, so I gave it a go. It started out okay, but sadly went downhill from there in my opinion. Lots of books get a bit boring in the middle, and I forgive them if they redeem themselves with a satisfying ending, but I thought the ending of this book just got a bit silly. Too new agey for me. Ancient lost souls communicating telepathically – yeah right. Oh well, I don’t think I’ll bother with the remaining two books in the trilogy. 20.02.15
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn (Kindle Book)
I saw the film of this book, and though it was a pretty good thriller but probably not worth reading the book, so when it was suggested at my book group read for Feb/March, I thought ‘oh no!’. Saying that, the book wasn’t as bad as I though it would be. I didn’t have the impact of trying to work out what was going on, having already seen the film, but I did have to advantage of hindsight to see things pan out knowing what was coming. The book had a little more substance than the film, and I actually quite enjoyed reading it. It’s not a deep literary essay full of allegory and metaphor, but still. 25.02.15
Still Alice – Lisa Genova (Kindle Book)
It was interesting reading this book so soon after reading Elizabeth Is Missing, as both books are told in the perspective of women suffering from dementia. This book deals with a fairly young and intellectual woman who discovers she is in the early stages of dementia, and we follow her journey through the pain of discovery and the growing confusion and frustration of losing who she was. I have to say that I very much preferred Elizabeth is missing, because the sense of confusion we got from the unreliable narrator where glimpses of real life were clues we had to work out, I think, gave a much more tragic and empathetic feel for what the character was going through than this book which was just the narrator telling us ‘this is my symptom and this is how I feel about it, this is my next symptom and this is how I feel about it….’ it did get more confused towards the end of the book, but there was no story to be worked out, just watching the character succumb to her condition. 03/03/15
After The Bombing – Clare Morrall (Kindle Book)
I have loved other books by Clare Morrall, I always seem to identify with her characters who tend to be insular and reclusive to their own detriment. This one took me a little longer to get into than her others. It’s a dual time novel set during the war at a well to do girls’ school and then some time later (about forty years later, I think) at the same school with the main schoolgirl character working as a teacher. It’s about the long reaching effects of war and loss and it’s quite sad. The war time school girl bits reminded me of the Mallory Towers and St Clare’s books I used to read as a child! 14/03/2015
The Martian – Andy Weir (Kindle Book)
I enjoyed this sci-fi book about a man stranded on Mars having to fight for his survival. Although it was set on Mars, it could equally have worked in any inhospitable setting where the main character had to use his wits to survive with minimal resources. The main character was fortunately both a botanist and an engineer, so was well equipped to jury rig the bits of equipment and survival gear with him on Mars that was only supposed to last for much less time than he is forced to stay there. There’s quite a lot of science, explaining how he’s doing things – eg, how he was able to introduce bacteria in to Martian soil and play around with the humidity and oxygen levels in the habitat building to grow potatoes from the small number of actual potatoes which were sent to Mars for the astronauts to celebrate a ‘proper’ thanksgiving dinner. It reminded me of Castaway and The Life of Pi – I believe it’s being made into a film. 20/03/2015
Glorious Angels – Justina Robson (Kindle Book)
I was looking for inspiration about what to read next by going on Amazon and looking at books I’ve loved and seeing what was in the ‘people who bought that also bought this’ section (I can’t now remember which book I was looking at) but this one was there, and it was cheap so I bought it. Big mistake. Terrible book. Only got about twenty percent in and then gave up. 28/03/2015
History Of The Rain – Niall Williams (Kindle Book)
This is a very beautiful book set in Ireland and told by a bedridden young woman surrounded by books and stories from her father and grandfather. She tells us their stories interspersed with her own, with snippets of their and her favourite fictional characters’ stories and bits of mythology. I loved all the literary references, and I loved how every word felt like well considered poetry. Although I loved the book, I sometimes found it a little heavy going, and I had a break in the middle of reading it and re-read (for the umpteenth time) Good Omens (I shelled out for a kindle copy since my paperback is falling apart). 12/04/2015
Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Kindle Book)
As I said in the previous review, I took a break in the middle of reading History Of The Rain to re-read this, my all time favourite book. Partly because History Of The Rain is quite heavy going (but worth the effort) and partly because I was feeling a bit meah – not quite depressed by not cheery either, and Good Omens is a book that always makes me laugh and everyone knows that laughing and smiling lifts the spirits. (if you’ve read the book, then you’ll get the unintended pun, and if you haven’t read the book – READ IT NOW!!) I’m so sad about the death of Terry Pratchett who’s wisdom, wit and wonderfulness shines through this lovely if irreverent book. 10/04/2015
Hope – A Tragedy – Shalom Auslander (Kindle Book)
What a strange sad, funny, deep, interesting book! A Jewish American man, Solomon Kugel, moves to an old country farmhouse to have a fresh start with his wife, young son and aging mother, only to discover that Anne Frank (yes, the real Anne Frank) is living in the attic. She’s very old and difficult, and had to hide the fact that she survived the war because it would hurt her book sales. Poor Kugel is caught in the middle of family squabbles, money worries and angst over wanting to get rid of Anne Frank but fearing the backlash if he threw her out. It’s a book that stayed with me for a long time after I read it, and one I’ve wanted to tell friends and family about. 15/04/15
A Pale View Of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro (kindle book)
This book messed with my head! It is an interesting if sad story of Etsuko, a young mother’s difficult early life in Japan before she moved to England – full of the Japanese control and understatement, Etsuko tells the story of herself and in parallel a woman she befriends. It’s not until the final paragraph of the book that a single sentence makes the reader say ‘hey, wait….what?!’ and completely re-think the whole book. It’s one of these stories where all is not as it seems, but the ending is left open for the reader to draw their own conclusions. I had to go on-line and read lots of comments and forums to make sense of what was going on, and even then there’s no real consensus of opinion. Even Ishiguro admitted that it was obtuse! Good book, though. 17/4/15
The Miracle Inspector – Helen Smith (kindle book)
I really liked this book. It’s a dystopian … not really future, maybe alternate reality. I loved the subtle undercurrent of menace and the less is more approach to telling the story leaving the reader to read between the lines. It felt very Orwellian with a sort of ‘thought controlled’ society with men in charge and women in the kitchen and I found it very compelling. My only criticism was that it is a really short book, more of a novella, and I’d have liked it to be longer – saying that, it didn’t have the boring middle that longer books often do. It inspired me to look for more by the writer. 19/4/15
Three Sisters – Helen Smith (Kindle Book)
I bought this and two other books in the series by Helen Smith because I loved The Miracle Inspector so much. Well, apart from also being very short, this book is very different to The Miracle Inspector -it’s much lighter and more comedic. I liked it, I guess, it was readable enough, although I felt the title of the book somewhat gave away the ‘mystery’ of someone being murdered and then appearing again alive and well. I’ll read the other two at some point, but I don’t feel as excited by them as I was after reading The Miracle Inspector. 20/4/15
A New York Winter’s Tale – Mark Helprin (Kindle Book)
Wow – I loved this book. It’s very long – its little line of dots on the kindle went almost all the way across the page, whereas most of my books only go about a third of the way. I had to stop in the middle to read my book group book, but then I came back to it. It’s a lovely mix of fabulous characters (the settings of New York City and the ethereal ‘Lake of the Coheries’ being characters in their own right) magic realism, historical fiction, family drama and a perfect love story. I have to admit to being often quite confused while reading, but enjoying the ride so much that I didn’t really mind. I watched the film after reading the book (both myself and my husband Paul really liked the film, in spite if it being panned by critics) and it missed out a lot of stuff, but made what was going on a little clearer (I felt). 15/5/15
Nora Webster – Colm Toiben (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for May. It’s set in Ireland and opens with a newly widowed mother of four and follows her over a year or two as she starts to cope with life again. It shows both the claustrophobic lack of privacy and the web of support offered by living in a small town with extended family and friends close at hand. The writing is beautiful and quite understated. My book group all loved it, although I had to admit to getting a bit bored by it. It turns out that the book is based on the experience of the writer as a child, so it’s really more of a memoir about his mother, which is maybe why I liked it less because ‘slice of life’ or biographies aren’t really my cup of tea – even if they’re well written and beautiful, I like the structure and completion you get with fiction more than the meanderings of real life. 6/5/15
Aberystwyth Mon Amour – Malcolm Pryce (Paperback)
My friend Sheila, who runs our bookgroup loves the No Alibis bookshop in Belfast, and has quite a rapport going with the owner David. Every time she goes in he recommends books to her and she invariably buys them! This was one she bought and lent to me. It’s a pastiche or homage to the classic noir detective thriller except it’s set in Aberystwyth! I enjoyed the book – it is very stylish, and the protagonist is likeable. The plot became a little far fetched but I guess it was supposed to be humorous and it does manage to be both funny and touching while still quite compelling. I didn’t like having to read a real paperback again – after spending most of my life gushing over how I love everything about books, I now am spoiled to paper by the kindle and my experience of paper books will never hit the mark again. I’ve added other Malcolm Pryce books to my kindle wish list! 20/5/15
It’s been two months since I’ve updated my I Just Read Page (I feel like I’m in the confessional – forgive me father….) and in that time I’ve read at least 8 books – I’ll try and remember as much about them as I can and in what order I read them (I’ll have to make up the dates, but hey, you can forgive that, right? It’s now 23rd July and I’m almost finished reading The Bone Clocks – which is FABULOUS!)
A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson (Hardback)
I won this from Waterstones with the deal being I write a review on their website when I’ve read it (which I am yet to do – shame!) It is a companion book to Life After Life, but can easily be read without having read the other and although it follows a character who appeared in Life After Life, it’s a very different book. The central character is a man who we meet as a small boy and again as an old man, but the main part of his story we learn through flashbacks of his time as a fighter pilot in WW2. The story also revolves around his extended family, although as we got to know them I found myself wishing the book would get back to the war scenes, which is odd for me, as I wouldn’t willingly read a book about soldiers and war if I could help it. It is a book which works on lots of levels – family drama, war time thriller and more (don’t want to give away spoilers) and I grew into it until I didn’t want to put it down and I found the ending, which took a while to sink in, to be with hindsight, perfectly right. 30/05/15
The Grimm Legacy – Polly Shulman (Kindle Book)
This book kept cropping up in lists of people who liked this also liked.. and I liked the premise of a library or museum of genuine fairy tale or magical artefacts. I found the style a bit emetic – very American pre-pubescent ‘Oh gee, I’m a nerd but I have feeling for this really cute guy…’ yeah. Putting that aside though, I enjoyed the story and although I didn’t get all the American cultural references, I liked the darkness, because true fairy tales are always dark, and a true reflections of the actual Grimm fairy tales. Not bad. 8/06/15
The Homesman – Glendon Swarthout (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for June. When it was suggested as our next read, I was pretty keen having seen the film (really good) I thought it would be a good book, and it was. The reading was slightly spoiled (or enhanced) by knowing what was going to happen, and being more attuned to spotting differences between the book and the film to just enjoying the book. It’s a tragic tale of the hardships faced by pioneers in the American west and the effects on peoples lives and mental states. A single women (brilliantly played by Hillary Swank in the movie) volunteers to transport three women driven mad by the traumas they’d been through by wagon to the nearest city for them to get help. She hires a rough gruff characters (again, brilliantly played by Tommy Lee Jones in the film) to help her and they go on a journey both physically and metaphysically. The writing is simple yet profound and I enjoyed reading it. 15/06/2015
The Long Utopia – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (Kindle Book)
This it the fourth instalment in the Long Earth series, co-written by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (I’m guessing that Stephen Baxter will just continue the series on his own now?) I liked this one better than the last one, and I’ll continue reading the series. 20/06/2015
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent (Kindle Book)
This was my book group read for July (I’m two months and eight books behind in my write up – and it’s the school holidays so I don’t even have an excuse). From what I remember, I enjoyed reading the book – the main character evoked a strange mix of sympathy, fascination and wariness in me – When we first meet her, she is being treated very badly by the soldiers (or police?) who are in charge of her, and we know she has been convicted of murder. We get to know her better with the family who are forced to take her in while the details of her execution are worked out (the right axe being purchased, etc) with them we are initially suspicious, but soften and warm to her as we realise she is not a monster, just a normal woman. As she tells her story, we feel more sympathetic, although there’s always a hint of suspicion, especially when her version of events doesn’t tie in with the police reports from the scene of the crime. The country and the historical context are well realised and fascinating and all in all it was a good read.30/06/2015
A Tale For The Time Being – Ruth Ozeki (Kindle Book)
A japanese Canadian woman finds a package washed up on the beach containing a diary and other objects written by a teenaged Japanese girl in Japan. We get the dual story of the Canadian woman trying to research and translate various bits to get the true story, and we see things from the point of view of the diary writer, a girl who had grown up in the USA but returned to Japan when her dad lost everything in the dot com bubble crash. She is horribly bullied by her Japanese school mates, and has a pretty rough time of it as her dad keeps trying to commit suicide and she is sucked into prostitution. Things improve for her though when she is sent to spend the summer with her aged Buddhist monk grandmother. The book was quite shocking, and even the protagonist behaved in ways that disturbed me, and I wondered if I was seeing things with my own cultural bias. The book stayed with me though, and made me thoughtful. 05/07/2015
When Mr Dog Bites – Brian Conaghan (Kindle Book)
This is the relative rarity of a young adult book that didn’t really annoy me. In fact I really liked this tale of a troubled teen with Tourette’s. I think the writer was criticised for having swearing and sexual language in a young adult book, but obviously a book about Tourette’s is going to have that, and young adults have seen way worse from lots of other sources. I found the boy’s interactions with his friends to be believable, and his home family story was sweet and uplifting without being preachy or saccharine. Good book, I liked it. 10/07/2015
Gould’s Book Of Fish – Richard Flanagan (Kindle Book)
This is an odd fish of a book (pun intended!). It’s the tale of a man (Gould) transported to Australia for fraud and having escaped, being sent to Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania) where there was a penal colony for hardened offenders, run by various insane or corrupt officials (according to Gould). Gould has a talent for drawing and painting, and manages to escape death on more than one occasion by impressing those in power with his art. The book has cold hard brutality as well as humour and lightness and it descends in to a kind of kaleidoscopic hallucinogenic madness when Gould, who has been commissioned to paint an encyclopedia of fish believes he is turning into a fish, and the reader is left to decide if Gould is mad, or if he did in fact turn into a fish (I think as a spiny seahorse – if I remember rightly). I found it quite compelling reading (if a little long) and I enjoyed it.18/07/2015
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell (Kindle Book)
Now this book I loved! The book follows the life story of Holly who begins as a troubled teen in the 1970s and continues until her old age in a dystopian future. We get other points of view as well, and it sometimes feels a little jarring at first, like, ‘wait, who is this now?’ but then as the reader realises that everything centres on Holly and the interactions of these people with her then you can breathe an ‘oh right’ sigh of relief and move on. Then there’s the supernatural magic realism side of the book, which I also loved – immortals both good and evil fighting for their own ends and using mortals as pawns – it reminded me a bit of A New York Winters Tale (which I also loved) as well as the better Nick Harkaway novels (which is the pinnacle of praises in my book). Can’t wait for the sequel/companion book to get cheaper so I can buy and read it!! 24/07/2015
John Dies At The End – David Wong (Kindle Book)
This book apparently started life as a continuing blog post story (my son Christy, who is 18 is familiar with David Wong’s blog) and it is often very madcap and very puerile (it never misses an opportunity to use a willy related joke). Saying that, I actually (mostly) really enjoyed the book. I found the characterisation, plot structure and building tension to be superb and was drawn into the plot (which made a lot more sense in the book than the dire movie which I watched on Netflix after having read the book). The friendships and blossoming romance was cute and I loved the talking dog. There were intricacies and surprises that kept me on my toes and the ending was satisfying. I was reading it on the plane going on holiday with my book group ladies, and the look of confused horror on their faces when I explained what the book was about was priceless! 29/07/2015
The Secret River – Kate Grenville (Kindle Book)
Like Gould’s Book Of Fish, this book is about a man (William Thornville) transported to Australia, this time for theft. He was saved from hanging by the efforts of his wife, who wrote letters appealing to various gentlemen to act on his behalf. It’s a very different book to Gould’s Book Of Fish, as Thornville is not sent to a penal colony, but given as a slave to his own wife, so effectively they are free to make a life for themselves in Australia – the true story is about the hardship and difficulty of being poor and trying to scratch out a living on hard infertile soil with the ever present danger of ‘the blacks’ which is the indigenous people, who are built up in stories as savage monsters making the convicts nervous and savage back to them. I found the book a little slow to get into, but once I had I became engrossed and couldn’t wait to get back to it. It shows both the worst and best of people being brought out in difficult circumstances, and it stayed with me after I finished it. 07/08/2015
The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness (Kindle Book)
I read this book fairly recently but only when I went to write up another Patrick Ness book I just read, and looked back to refer to this one, I realised I never wrote it up, and I can’t remember what date I read it (I wonder if there are other books I read and forgot to write up – a forgotten library of ephemeral memories?) I do remember that I found the book to be as near to perfect as a book can be – a modern day fairy tale with real characters and magic and love and sadness and art. Patrick Ness is becoming my new favourite writer. (??/??/????)
The Crash Of Hennington – Patrick Ness (Kindle Book)
Like David Mitchell, in The Bone Clocks, Patrick Ness manages to perfectly meld the real and the abstract. This book is set in a dystopian future where all records of history prior to about 75 years ago have been erased and for some reason a herd (or Crash) of rhinos roam freely around what otherwise seems like a normal town. The chapters are told from different points of view, including the POV of the female leader of the rhinos, and deals with love, religion and politics as they butt heads and inevitably, tension rises to a cataclysmic conclusion. I really enjoyed the book and was sad when it was over. (Oh, and there’s some magical realism in there too, which every great book needs.) 13/08/2015
The End Of The World Running Club – Adrian Walker (Kindle Book)
I liked this book, I think. It’s starts off quite excitingly with an apocalyptic world wide asteroid shower strike. A man (I can’t remember his name now) hides in a cellar/bunker with his wife and young daughter, and they manage to survive until the military ‘rescue’ them. Things are pretty chaotic though, as only a few straggly junior soldiers who survived are alive, and groups of murderous teens are waging war on then. Then it turns into a road trip (like ‘The Road’ only not as good) because most of the people are sent off by helicopter to get on a boat to somewhere (I think Australia or New Zealand) that wasn’t hit by asteroids, but our hero is separated from his family so must travel by foot from Scotland to the south our England. They meet some creepy people and have some adventures, and the ending is kind of sad and noble. 20/08/2015
More Than This – Patrick Ness (Kindle book)
I’m having a bit of a Patrick Ness orgy at the moment, because I love The Crane Wife so much (and The Crash Of Hennington almost as much) but this book didn’t quite hit the spot as much for me. This one is a young adult book, and a little preachy. Saying that, it’s still better than lots of other books, and the premise was really interesting and thought provoking (don’t want to give too much away, except to say that the main character dies at the beginning and the rest of the book is not a flashback, but rather a what happens next…..) I was really looking forward to the new Patrick Ness book: The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, but it’s a YA book too, so after reading this one, I’m not so sure…. 28/08/2015
Ajax Penumbra – Robin Sloan (Kindle Book)
This is a prequel to Mr Penumbra’s 24 hour bookshop, which I really liked, and it’s been on my kindle for a while, but I was put off reading it because sequels/prequels so often disappoint. I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint. It’s a short book (more of a novella) but every bit as quirky and satisfying as the first. 29/08/2015
The Humans – Matt Haig (kindle book)
Yay – great book, loved it! It starts with an eminent mathematician, who seems to have been a very bad husband and father wandering naked and confused about the university campus where he worked. He thinks he’s an alien, inhabiting the body of the mathematician in order to prevent the human race from progressing too quickly due to the amazing mathematical proof he’d just…. proved. It has all the sweetness of an innocent and confused alien trying to come to terms with humanness, which it does really well without being annoying or sentimental. I especially loved mad human/genuine alien’s communications with the family dog. 31/08/2015
The Shepherd’s Crown – Terry Pratchett (Hardback Book)
The Last ever Discworld Book – waily! waily! I was a little unkind in my review of the discworld book before this one (Raising Steam) but I didn’t find fault in this one – lovely Tiffany Aching wise witchy lady and funny Nac Mac Feegles, wonderful story telling, heart aching sadness that this is the last time I’ll read a discworld book for the first time again (if you know what I mean). My heart is as heavy as my shelf full of lovely Sir Terry Books. RIP great man. 04/09/2015
English Passengers – Matthew Kneale (Paperback)
This was my book group read for September, and judging from the emails that have gone around the rest of the girls are finding it hard to get into. I actually really liked it. Like The Secret River, and Gould’s Book of Fish, it’s set largely in ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ (now called Tasmania) and deals with issues of the abuse of aboriginals by British military, and everyone else, as well as the convicts and societies growing out of convict settlements, and also the conflicts between the church and the early ideas about geology disagreeing with the biblical idea of creation. The book is told from lots of different points of view, following three main story threads which all come together at the denouement. I liked it’s dark humour and interesting writing and I loved the ending. 12/09/2015
The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet – David Mitchell (Kindle Book)
Once again I’m dead late writing up what I’ve been reading (two months and ten and a half books late….) so it’ll be a testament to the books if I can remember much about them! I do remember this book – not as fabulous (in my mind) as The Bone Clocks, but still a fairly engrossing and rewarding read by David Mitchell. A straight tale of a Dutch trader working in a tiny island off the coast of Japan (because non-Japanese were not allowed on the mainland) trying to fit into the customs while staying honest amidst rife corruption and falling in love with a Japanese girl, around (I think, the early 20th century? or maybe earlier) I found myself becoming interested in both Japanese and Dutch history, and googling along to my reading, and also telling my husband (who is sadly not a reader) about the plot and things in the book that moved or shocked me. The side story of what became of the Japanese love interest still stays with me in a haunting way. 19/09/2015
Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel (Kindle Book)
Again (see previous review) it’s two months since I read this, but I do remember quite a lot about it. It’s a dystopian post apocalyptic novel but refreshingly different from most in the genre. The writing is beautiful and poetic and lyrical and the plot structure is interesting the way it switches perspective and chronology giving us pieces of the jigsaw so the full picture of the story emerges piecemeal and everything makes more sense as it goes along. It’s my first book by Emily St John Mandel, and from her picture and bio she seems beautiful, accomplished and elegant, and I can’t even hate her for it, because I love her writing so much that it makes me feel like a kindred spirit (not that I can write like that, but that I feel an empathetic bond). 23/09/2015
The Magpies – Mark Edwards (Kindle Book)
Talking of things that I hate….. This Book. I should learn that even if thousands of people on Amazon like a book, if it’s in this genre (brain dead, best-seller, pulp fiction, trashy thriller) I won’t like it. Fair play to Mark Edwards, he’s obviously tapped into a market that lap up this kind of drivel (most people it seems) but for me, I’d rather poke needles in my eyes than read this kind of book (I’m wouldn’t really rather poke needles in my eye – I’m not mental, but in case a fan of Mark Edwards is reading this review and doesn’t understand figures of speech that aren’t explained many times in small words – I just meant I hated it).28/09/2015
Last Night In Montreal – Emily St John Mandel (Kindle Book)
I bought a couple more Emily St John Mandel books because I loved Station Eleven so much. This one didn’t blow me away as much as Station Eleven, but I still found it engrossing. A young American follows the mysterious girlfriend who disappeared from his New York Apartment up to Canada where he has a lead on where she might be. Like Station Eleven, the story is told from several perspectives and jumps around in time. The characters’ motivations and quirks make sense only when the reader had the full picture, which turns out to be a complex and tragically sad human story. I liked it very much. 30/09/2015
The Radleys – Matt Haig (Kindle Book)
I bought this because I loved Humans by Matt Haig so much, and this one also didn’t disappoint. A modern day twist on the age old vampire story with real heart and soul that doesn’t just fall back on gory shock tactics. Matt Haig is becoming one of my new favourite writers! 3/10/2015
Humans: an A to Z – Matt Haig (kindle book)
This is just a fun little companion book to the wonderful Humans – a quirky look at all things human in a handy alphabetical format for visiting aliens. Made me chuckle. 5/10/2015
The Lola Quartet – Emily St John Mandel (Kindle Book)
This is the third of the four Emily St John Mandel books that I bought on the strength of loving Station Eleven so much. It has similar themes to her other books – people searching for lost loves who are running away and hiding. It’s probably my least favourite of her books that I’ve read so far, but since she sets the bar high with such good writing, it is still an excellent and book, very worth reading. 08/10/2015
Time (Manifold Book 1) – Stephen Baxter (Kindle Book)
I bought this because I love the Long Earth series of books by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett, so I though I would check out something that was just by Stephen Baxter. He’s a very prolific and well liked Sci-Fi writer, but I have to say I found this book a bit of a slog. I think it was too hard core sci-fi for my taste – lots of science and way out space stuff, with not as much gentle humour or character empathy as the Long Earth books (I guess those were the bits supplied by Terry Pratchett? Great for hard core sci-fi fans, but not for me. 19/10/2015
Career Of Evil – Robert Galbraith (Kindle Book)
I’m glad that JK Rowling’s pseudonym of Robert Galbraith got outed or I wouldn’t have read this series of detective novels. I do enjoy them. The ‘will they/won’t they’ relationship between the detective and his female assistant while possibly a little cheesy, is so compelling, and I really do like the characters. I made the mistake of reading this while eating my lunch one day as very gruesome murder details were described and I genuinely felt very sick. The ending left me desperate to read the next book. 30/10/2015
The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R.Carey (Kindle Book)
This book was ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS! The writing was fabulous, the characters were fabulous, it started well and continued well and ended well. It is a wonderful twist on an old genre (I don’t want to spoil it by saying what the genre is – it really is better if you come at this book not knowing what is going on). I really was bowled over by how good this book is. I hope M. R, Carey writes more (or is it a pseudonym of a more established writer?) because I really want to read more of what they have written! 3/11/2015
How The Marquis Got His Coat Back – Neil Gaiman (Kindle Book)
I bought this by mistake, thinking it was a full length novel and was cheep because it was the kindle deal of the day, when actually it was just a ‘recommended for me’ kindle book and is in fact a short story. If you’ve read many of my reviews, you’ll know that I generally don’t like short stories, but I do love Neil Gaiman, so I probably would have bought this even if I knew what I was getting. It’s a nice little story that slots into the Neverwhere book (one of my favourites, and I watch the tv adaptation regularly) so worth a read if you like that kind of thing. 3/11/2015
The Hundred And Ninety-Nine Steps – Michael Faber (Kindle Book)
Again, (see previous review) I didn’t realise this wasn’t a full length novel. It’s more then a short story – a novella I guess. I have mixed feelings about it – bits felt a bit cringe-worthy (like chick-lit romance) but there were things about it that I really did like. The dog is a great character, and the suspense of the three main plot threads ( the main character’s painful lump, the will they/won’t they romance and the unravelling of the ancient scroll of a dying man’s deathbed confession) hold the attention fairly well, and were resolved satisfactorily. Not as good as other things I’ve read by this author, though. 14/11/2015
Echo Boy – Matt Haig (Kindle Book)
Matt Haig is fabulous. Echo Boy is a young adult book (but don’t let that put you off) about a girl whose family are killed by a supposedly totally safe artificial intelligence robot thingy. It reminded me of the tv series, humans (which I loved) and the films AI and I Robot (also great) but with Matt Haig’s awesome writing thrown in for good measure. Adventure, peril, love, loss etc – loved it! 15/11/2015
The Boy Who Made It Rain – Brian Conaghan (Kindle Book)
This book was hyped up on Amazon as being all amazing, and I was really disappointed when I started reading because I thought it was awful! I kept at it though, and while never becoming a book I enjoyed/ admired, it did get better and start to hold my interest. It’s told in lots of conflicting points of view, and jumping through time around some un-revealed terrible happening (which turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax). It was okay, but not great, I thought. 24/11/2015
Bete – Adam Roberts (Kindle Book)
Now this book I loved! Set in a dystopian future where everything is smart chipped (so wine glasses tell you when you’ve had too much, or mirrors tell you if you need to lose weight etc) some animal rights activists put smart chips into farm animals and they somehow fuse with the animals neurological networks to become something more than just a computer chip, effectively making animals sentient. The chips get into the animal worlds food chain so all kinds of rats, mice, birds, wild creatures etc are now sentient. The protagonist was a meat farmer, but now that animals have rights, he’s out of work and itinerant with a wonderfully black sense of humour. He meets up with a sentient cat (who must be one of my all time favourite fictional characters) who also has a black and sarcastic sense of humour, and they form an unhappy alliance. I loved the black humour and flawed characters. I didn’t know Adam Roberts before, but will now look out for more of his books. 29/11/2015
The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood (Kindle)
loved Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Oryx and Crake trilogy, and this is similar in feel. Set in a future where unemployment and crime are rife, a solution is offered where people are sent to a highly controlled environment where they spend alternate months as prisoners and as free working people. The environment inevitably is not so great as it’s made out to be, and as secrets are discovered, a daring escape ensues. I liked it a lot, but it’s not on my list of all time faves. 05/12/2015
Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller (Kindle)
This is a strange yet compelling book, which is ultimately disturbing ( I had to go and google the book when I’d finished to make sense of what I’d read and my interpretation of it). A young girl is taken by her father to a remote cabin in a forest somewhere in Europe and told by him that the rest of the world was killed in some great catastrophe. It’s a coming of age, survival story, family drama with a dark twist. I enjoyed reading it (I think) and it certainly made me think and ponder after I’d finished reading it. 09/12/2015
By Light Alone – Adam Roberts (Kindle)
Inspired by having loved Bete so much, I tried this one. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Bete, but still liked it. It’s set in a future where humans have been genetically engineered to photosynthesise through their hair. Society has split into two classes – the ultra rich who shave their heads and still eat food and consider hair to be distasteful, and the very poor who can be made to work for nothing since they don’t need to be fed, and who can live but not thrive on only sunlight. The plot revolves around the kidnapping of a rich child by the poor underclass. It’s more about inequalities and the character flaws imposed by both being very rich and being very poor than about the sci-fi element. An interesting and enjoyable read. 09/12/2015
Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig (Kindle)
I love Matt Haig’s fiction, and this book about his own personal struggles with depression and anxiety and journey through darkness to comparative lightness was going cheep on Amazon, so I thought, why not. I’ve had mild bouts of depression and anxiety myself, although reading this book put them into perspective as nothing like as bad as he went through. There are lots of uplifting and funny moments in the book. It has short chapters with lists and quote and is the sort of book you could (and should) dip into regularly to remind yourself why not to despair. 29/12/2015
The Girl In The Red Coat – Kate Hamer (Kindle)
I don’t normally like this kind of modern family thriller, and yet I really did like this book. It’s about a little girl who is abducted by a man claiming to be her grandfather, who is actually a travelling faith healer who is convinced she has a healing gift which he could profit from. The book follows the girl and her mother over the years following her abduction, and it is well written and subtle and deep, unlike many similar thriller type books. 22/12/2015
The Sea Detective – Mark Douglas-Home (Kindle)
Again, this type of thriller/detective story can often bore me stupid, but this one I also really liked! Set in Scotland and following the multiple threads of interesting characters in the police force, a PhD student who is an expert in sea currents and tides and who is researching the history of his grandfather from a remote Scottish island, and a young Indian girl smuggled to Scotland as a sex slave and how their stories intertwine. I can’t wait for the next book in the series. 26/12/2015
My Name Is Mina – David Almond (Kindle)
I had high hopes for this book, having loved other David Almond books I’ve read, and initially I didn’t really warm to the structureless stream of conciousness type of narrative, even though it is suited to the point of the book, which is that sticking to plans and structures, and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to education doesn’t suit everyone. It is the diary of a little girl who is taken out of school to be home schooled by her mother when the school seemed to approach her differences (presumably she is on the autistic spectrum, although this is not spelled out) as something to be punished rather than working out strategies on how best to facilitate her (which I thought was a bit unrealistic – surely school could do better than that?). Still, I did warm to the style, and actually found the resolution to be very uplifting. Not my favourite David Almond, but still worth a read. 28/12/2015
The Last Family In England -Matt Haig (paperback)
This was Matt Haig’s first published book, and doesn’t seem to be available on Kindle so I was forced to go back to the dark ages and by a second hand paperback. Apparently it’s a reworking of Shakespeare’s Henry V with talking dogs. Since I’m not familiar with the plot of Henry V, I can’t really comment on that side of it, but taken at face value I liked it very much. There was intrigue and murder and adultery and family and honour and so on and it was well done and believable. 30/12/2015
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle (kindle)
I’ve had a really bad coldy/fluey thing over Christmas, and my sleeping patterns are completely messed up, so I’ve been waking in the middle of the night feeling sorry for myself for hours on end. One such night, I knew the only thing to comfort me would be to re-read one of my favourite books from my youth, and even though I have it on paperback downstairs I bought it on kindle via my ipad in bed at about three in the morning and read it in two sittings (finishing it in the middle of the following night). What can I say? I love this book and it brought back lots of memories and made me all contemplative about life and ageing and being the same person and yet a different person now that I’m 46 and not 16 (when I read it first) . 01/01/2016 (Happy New Year!)
All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr (Kindle)
This book was recommended to me by one of my book group friends, and I agree with her that it is an excellent read. Told from two points of view – one a young French girl who loses her eyesight and the other a young German boy in events leading up to and including the German occupation of France during WW2. It’s a story of people caught up in their circumstances and underpins the humanity and complexity of both characters in seemingly opposing roles. The two narratives eventually come together in an unexpected and yet fulfilling way, and the story highlights the best and worst and just everyday normality of people in extreme situations. 04/01/2016
The Giver – Lois Lowry (Kindle)
This is the first in a series of four young adult dystopian novels written in the early nineties. It was the kindle daily deal, so I gave it a go, and loved it. It’s American, but not in the bad way. The story is creepy and draws the reader in compulsively. Everyone lives in a very controlled society with all the memories, emotions and even appreciation of colour are held by one chosen person so everyone else can get on with their pre-selected roles in a state of (if not) blissful ignorance, at least sleepy compliance. The hero is the next chosen keeper of memories, and with him we discover the extent of control the society has and we share his indignation. The story ends on a bit of a cliff edge, so I went ahead and bought the next book right away. 06/01/2016
Gathering Blue – Lois Lowry (kindle)
Since I was desperate to find out what happened to the hero of the previous book in the series, I was annoyed (at first) to discover that this book while set in the same world as The Giver was about totally different people with no overlap. Once I got passed that, I appreciated that this was a totally different but equally engrossing and thought provoking book set in a village which seemed less controlling than the town in the first book, but actually the control was just more subtle and insidious. 07/01/2016
Messenger – Lois Lowry (Kindle)
After reading the first two books in the Giver Quarter, I hardly paused for breath before buying and devouring the third. This one follows one of the characters from the second book, and we finally get some hints about what happened to the star of book one. Again, this book is different to the others, but equally gripping and intelligent. 08/01/2016
Son – Lois Lowry (Kindle)
With the final book in the Giver Quartet we come full circle and back to the town from book one. Like the other books in the series, it follows a new main character, but we do finally get to learn what happened to the main characters from the other books. These books are a masterclass in how good young adult dystopian fiction can and should be – not slushy or overblown with earnest romance, but full of truly delightful and devastating human emotion and motivation – love, honour, pain and sacrifice. Fabulous. 10/01/2016
Undermajordomo Minor – Patrick DeWitt (Kindle)
This is a very strange surreal novel. It feels kind of old fashioned and kind of European and kind of otherworldy. A young man leaves his hometown and gets a job as a sort of butler in a big house with very eccentric occupants, set in a place that is in the middle of a civil war/guerrilla fighting something or other. There’s romance, menace, coming of age-ness and lots of oddity. I really liked it! 15/01/2016
The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien (Kindle)
This was my book group read for January. It really wasn’t what I was expecting from an older Irish writer. A strange foreign alternative healer turns up in a wee Irish town and the townsfolk are shaken up and excited by his arrival. It turns out he is a wanted war criminal from the Balkans (the novel is a fictionalisation of the story of Radovan Karadzic). The main character, Fidelma, falls for him, and wants to have a baby with him, which is okay until some enemies from the Balkans turn up and there are some quite shockingly violent scenes. The second half of the book is about Fidelma, who has fled to London and is having a terrible life and an array of refugees that she meet and who share their own harrowing tales with her. It got mixed reviews from the book group ladies, but I quite liked it (although I found it quite disturbing). 24/01/2016
Holy Island: A DCI Ryan Mystery – L J Ross (Kindle)
I think this was a kindle daily deal, and because I loved The Sea Detective, I thought this might be similar, and it got good reviews so I went for it. Oh dear. I very quickly grew to hate the two main characters, and the prose which felt like how I imagine a Mills and Boon romance novel might read – the male and female leads were just so beautiful and handsome and the sexual tension between them was hammered into the reader at every available opportunity. That really annoyed me. Saying that, the actual plot was okay, and I did finish the book and found the murder stories fun enough. 01/02/2016
The Dressmaker – Rosalie Ham (Kindle)
Now this book I really liked. Set in a small town in Australia, it’s about the return of Tilly, who was sent away as a child after the death of a boy in her class at school which was blamed on her. Neither Tilly, nor her wonderfully cantankerous and tactless mother, really remember what actually happened, and we discover the truth along with them as things jog their memories, or people add bits of information. Tilly is a fabulous dressmaker, and the women of the town are torn between hating her and wanting her to make them dresses. Its funny, sad and great fun to read – I also loved the film which I watched after reading the book. 04/02/2016
All The Birds In The Sky – Jane Anders (Kindle)
I liked this book – the two main protagonists, both misfits in their own way and drawn to each other, were a female natural magician (Able to talk to birds and do spells etc) and a genius techy boy – who as a child designed the best ever artificial intelligence which played a major role later in the book. It began when they were children, and had a kind of young adult literature feel, but quickly becomes quite dark and adult. I’m months late (as ever) writing up my review, so I’m going on what lingers in my memory after so long, which is, compelling plotting and enough magical realism to keep me happy. Overall, I really liked, but didn’t quite love. It is almost but not quite as good as the likes of Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker. 10/02/2016
The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro (kindle)
This book read like a fable or adult fairy tale and I found it very compelling reading. The old couple who were the main protagonists lived in a world where the air or mists caused continual memory loss, and as they journey to find their son, who they vaguely remember as having moved away, hints of things they have forgotten threaten to ruin their relationship and their peace. It is an interesting read on many levels, addressing the questions about memory and how we see ourselves – I’ve always been interested in the way we shape our memories to paint our own pictures of the past which may vary hugely from what actually happened, and how our memories shape who we are compared with how who we are shapes our memories. 16/02/2016
Not Forgetting The Whale – John Ironmonger (kindle)
I really liked this book. It’s about a London trader who has made a very sophisticated computer programme machine that predicts ripple effects from lots of different events and how they will effect the world markets. His programme has some teething problems which causes his company to lose a fortune, and he runs away to a little isolated coastal town. When his machine predicts a massive apocalyptic event, he sets about trying to stockpile enough stuff to save the whole town. I liked that it is a lovely optimistic book with a genuinely good character inspiring others to do good. 17/02/2016
The Coincidence Authority – John Ironmonger (kindle)
Having liked ‘Not Forgetting The Whale’ so much, I sought out more books by John Ironmonger. This one is about Thomas, a statistician, who uses maths to explain away seemingly significant clusters of events as being merely random coincidences and Azalea, who came to him because her life seems to follow a starling pattern which she can’t believe can only be due to random chance. It’s a very interesting story – we learn Azalea’s incredible backstory as her relationship with Thomas grows and the story become part sweet romance, and part a kind of detective problem solving story . I liked it a lot. 20/02/2016
The Notable Brain Of Maximilian Ponder – John Ironmonger (kindle)
This is number three in my John Ironmonger reading marathon, and it is quite different from the other two, while still retaining the skilled writing style and quirkiness I’m coming to expect from the author. This one is about a rich eccentric probably autistic young man who decides to catalogue his every though and experience and piece of knowledge and is told from the point of view of his friend whom he employs to help him. Both characters kind of descend into madness as the plan of mapping the mind of Maximilian takes on a more sinister aspect. It was quite gripping. 24/02/2016
Slade House – David Mitchell (Kindle)
I love David Mitchell, and I loved The Bone Clocks, so I couldn’t wait to read Slade House, which while not really a sequel to The Bone Clocks, is set in the same universe. This book is insidious (in a good way, if that’s possible) in that the sinister aspects of it creeps up on you and a general feeling of unease becomes a deep routed terror as we share the protagonists fears. Loved the magical realism, loved the building tension, loved the characters – love David Mitchell. 27/02/2016
Since I am now FIVE MONTHS (!) behind on writing up what I’ve just read (shameful, I know) I am just going to list the books I’ve read, and fill in reviews gradually, if I have time (and if I can remember what the books were about). Sorry if my reviews are short and not very detailed (or possibly just wrong) it’s because I’m working with my less than perfect memory…
Secrets Of The Sea House – Elisabeth Gilford (Kindle Book)
This is one of those dual time stories from the point of view of someone from the past (a vicar and would-be scientist) and someone from the present (a young pregnant woman ) who both lived in the same house. The present time woman found remains of a ‘mermaid baby’ with fused leg bones when her and her partner were renovating their house and we learn from the back story about the young vicars obsession with mermaids and the selkie myths and how the bones ended up under his house. I quite liked the book, there were some interesting facts about how mermaid/selkie myths originated, and the writing was pretty good. Not on my ‘wow’ list of all time favourites, but not bad. 3/03/2016
The House Where It Happened – Martina Devlin (Kindle Book)
This was my bookgroup read for March 2016, and I was the only member of the group who really didn’t like it. Set in Carrickfergus (just down the road from us in Belfast) in the early seventeen hundreds, it’s the story of a witch hunt told from the point of view of a young housemaid. I thought the writing was poor, but since the other book group members all really liked it, maybe it was just not to my taste. 11/03/2016
The Woman Who Walked Into The Sea – Mark Douglas-Home (Kindle Book)
I bought this because I loved The Sea Detective so much, and if I remember rightly (sorry, I’m really late writing this up) I liked it as well, although maybe not quite as much as the first book. I will definitely want to continue reading the series though (I’m waiting for the next book to go down in price before I buy it …). 19/03/2016
The Possession of Mr Cave – Matt Haig (Kindle book)
I’m a big fan of Matt Haig – I find his books very insightful and also very readable – he writes about complex and flawed characters, and the main protagonist of this book is both. Following the death of his wife and more recently his son, Mr Cave descends into a kind of paranoic madness, he is over protective of his remaining child, a daughter and is also ‘possessed’ by the spirit of his dead son. The book is dark and rich and well worth reading. 22/03/16
The Woman Who Walked In Sunshine – Alexander McCallSmith (Hardback)
More typical sweet and warm Mma Ramotswe philosophical musings mixed with gentle mystery detective work. If he keeps churning them out, I’ll keep reading them! 26/03/2016
About Grace – Anthony Doerr (kindle)
I thought this book was fabulous. It’s Anthony Doerr’s debut novel, and so well written – one Amazon reviewer described Doerr as a scientist with a poet’s soul’ which I think sums it up very well. The main character is a specialist in water (specifically ice) and I loved the science bits about snowflakes, he also had premonitions (it’s ticking all my boxes because I love books with magical realism too) which always come true, and when he dreams that he causes his baby daughter’s death, he runs away from his young family to the Caribbean where is hides for many years, never knowing if his baby lived or died. Eventually he returns to the USA to search for the truth, and we feel every step of his agonising journey. 02/04/16
Bright Young Things – Scarlett Thomas (kindle)
This book started really well – a mysterious newspaper ad drew ‘interesting’ people for an interview who then ended up on a remote island not knowing what was going on. I wasn’t sure what to make of it as it went on though – not that much more happened, although it was an interesting study on human nature – how different people react to the mystery and danger of their situation. I liked it enough to add more Scarlett Thomas books to my wishlist on Amazon. 18/04/16
Florence and Giles – John Harding (kindle)
This was an interesting book – a strange atmospheric tale of of a girl raised in an isolated county mansion, forbidden to learn to read, who learns anyway and has to keep her reading a secret. There’s an evil nanny involved and some shocking violence – I liked it, I think, but didn’t love it. 14/04/16
The Girl Who Couldn’t Read – John Harding (kindle)
This is the sequel to Florence and Giles, although a quite different book. Set in a Victorian ‘lunatic asylum’ the book was gripping and I thought the complex flawed characters were pretty well drawn. Again it had some quite shocking violence, and quite a satisfying ending. 21/04/16
Fallen – Lia Mills (kindle book) – BookGroup
This was my bookgroup read for May, and it was also the ‘two cities one book’ title for Dublin and Belfast to coincide with the 100 years anniversary of the Easter Rising. I enjoyed the book, which is really kind of a coming of age story of the main character, a girl who’s brother was killed in the first world war, and is caught up on the fringes of the troubles surrounding the Easter Rising in Dublin. 28/04/16
The Underground Man – Mick Jackson (Kindle book)
I liked this book – about an elderly eccentric rich landowner who is obsessed with exploring the underground tunnels running from under his house to various locations in the village and countryside around him. As we get to know him we discover the fears and memories that shape him. The book touches on mental health issues and the reliability/unreliability of memory. 05/05/16
The Manual of Detection – Jedediah Berry (Kindle Book)
This book was fun – a sort of mysterious magical realism noir thriller about a clerk who inadvertently becomes a detective in over his head with murder and mayhem following him. I liked it. 13/05/16
The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Kindle book)
I loved this book – it was a readable yet harrowing account of Australian prisoners of war in Japan during the second world war. The story jumps about chronologically, and we learn quite a lot about the protagonist life outside of the prison camp as well. Very good book. 23/05/16
Death of a River Guide – Richard Flanagan
Having enjoyed The Narrow Road to the Deep North so much, I immediately read another Richard Flanagan book. Again I really enjoyed this book. It tells of the last few minutes in the life of a drowning man (the river guide) who sees visions from his own life and the lives of his family members which tell us the story of his life and history as a part aboriginal in Australia, as well as celebrating Tasmania and nature. 03/06/16
Medusa’s Web – Tim Powers
This was a clever, creepy atmospheric, supernatural, mystery, family drama. I liked it – a good one for fans of David Mitchell or Nick Harkaway (ie me!) 11/06/16
Tess of The D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy – BookGroup
I found Tess to be quite gripping in places, but also a bit longwinded. I was outraged at the treatment of poor Tess, and of women in general as well as of the lower classes by the English aristocracy. I’m also horrified by the fact that the readers of the time it was first published thought Tess was a bit of a trollop and deserved everything she got (!). It makes me glad that society has progressed as much as it has (at least in some areas). 23/06/16
Hideous Creatures – S.E. Lister
A fabulous book – a road trip, coming of age, historical fiction, magical realism, love story told with great beauty and skill. 28/06/16
The Shell Collector – Hugh Howey
I generally like dystopian futuristic novels, and this one started quite promisingly, but sadly for me anyway it fell short of my expectations. Firstly, I just couldn’t get that excited (or empathise with the excitement of the protagonists) about shells – I thought all the fuss about shells would lead to something else, but it didn’t. Just shells. Secondly, I found the love story between the two leads to be cringingly, sickeningly, obvious and annoying and ruined what without it may have been an okay book. 03/07/16
The Immortals – S.E. Lister
I read this because I loved Hideous Creatures so much, and this, while a very different novel was also fabulous. An epic literary tale of time travel as a genetic abnormality and the pros and cons of living that kind of life. Well done, S.E. Lister for writing such great books. 09/07/16
The Unexpected Gift of Joseph Bridgeman – Nick Jones
I didn’t realised when I started reading this that it was also a time travel novel (like The Immortals which I read immediately before it) and it was interesting to compare the two. This book is less literary and contemplative and more anecdotal, but still good. Like in The Immortals, the main protagonist (sorry, I always say protagonist because I can never remember the names of people in books I’ve read!) jumps about in time due to a genetic abnormality, and has little control over it at first. He has to hone his skill in order to rescue his sister who went missing when she was a child. I thought it was very well done, I liked the love story and that the time traveller went back in time and bought a winning lottery ticket (even if his plan didn’t exactly got smoothly) and it addresses the issues of changing things in the past having ripple effects on the future well, I though. Good book. 15/07/16
The Stress of Her Regard – Tim Powers
I’ve enjoyed other Tim Powers books, and I love the premise of this book – it plays around with mythology combining lamia, and vampires, and muses and sirens to name a few. I like that famous literary figures (Byron, Keats and Shelly) are bonded with these mythical creatures who give them their creative spark in return for sharing their life force. What I didn’t like was that it was sooooo loonnnngggg (sorry that says so long) I thought it should have been edited down to about half the length – I’m not going to read the sequel. 01/08/16
The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George
I bought this for my trip to Paris, and started reading it just before leaving Belfast and during the first half of our stay. It doesn’t actually have that much Parisian stuff in it, as the bookshop, which is on a boat on the Seine, takes off from Paris and travels up river for much of the book. I very much enjoyed reading it anyway – I loved that the bookseller made reference to lots of books that I’ve read and loved, I loved the romance of the language and the story and I spent some very happy evenings sitting in the sunshine in the Luxembourg Gardens reading this little gem of a book. 06/08/16
Fellside – M.R. Carey
I bought this because I loved The Girl With All The Gifts so much. Fellside is different but also fabulous – Set largely in a women’s prison, it reads like a surreal version of Orange Is The New Black (that’s a good thing!). I loved the characters, and the insight into their backstories, and of course I loved the supernatural element of the story, and the many twists and turns. Great book. 08/08/16
The Rest Of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness
Patrick Ness’s The Crane Wife is one of my all time favourite books, and I also loved The Crash Of Hennington. This is a Young Adult book, and set in America, two things which often annoy me about books, but I actually found this one very enjoyable – a little tongue-in-cheek, and poking fun at the genre, it still manages to be a very readable and fun book. Some people were annoyed by the many ‘issues’ the young protagonists were facing, but I thought that was part of the gentle teasing of the whole young adult book vibe and I thought the ‘issues’ were tackled well – sympathetic without being overly sentimental or preachy. 12/08/16
When The Floods Came – Clare Morrall
I have loved other books by Clare Morrall, especially The Roundabout Man and The Language of Others, largely because I seem to identify with her slightly odd characters. In this book, it was the setting rather than the characters that was ‘odd’ in the sense that it was a dystopian future with an strange mix of advanced technology and old style survival skills. The novel started almost like a normal family drama (where the family are the only people living in a deserted city), but became increasingly dark and sinister with the arrival of a lone traveller who is charming, but maybe not all he seems. I enjoyed the book, but it’s probably not one of my favourite of Clare Morrall’s novels. 19/08/16
The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Alice Hoffman
I really liked this book which tells the dual stories of a girl raised by an overbearing and scheming father who runs a ‘circus of freaks’ type museum in New York’s Coney Island area in the early twentieth century, and a young immigrant Jewish man who is disillusioned with his father and his community and resentful of the rich business owners who take advantage of them. I thought the story was beautifully told and I loved both the historical details and the romantic story between the two protagonists. 27/08/16
The Gift Of Rain – Tan Twan Eng
You know when you watch a really deep and meaningful arty foreign film, and you know it’s probably considered really good, but you’re actually finding it pretty boring (or is that just me?) well, that’s kind of what I think about this book. It’s about a half Chinese, half English young man in Malaya prior to and during the second world war, who’s best friend is a Japanese man. The book is all about his struggles with identity and knowing where his loyalties lie and what’s the right thing to do in very difficult circumstances. I thought it was way over long – (I think it was almost 600 pages long) and I found the regular descriptions of the martial arts fighting that went on to be beyond dull (I guess that really just doesn’t interest me). I’ve read better books about the atrocities that the Japanese subjected people to during the war (for instance, The Narrow Road To the Deep North). The language was poetic, I suppose, but I was glad when I finally reached the end. (I loved The Garden Of Evening Mists, also by Tan Twan Eng) 09/09/16
The Lie Tree – Francis Hardinge
It took me a while to get into this book, finding the style a bit old fashioned and almost patronising to begin with, but once I got my head around it I started to really like it. I had suggested this one to my book group, but the other ladies were put off by the magical realism aspect to it. If you’ve read my other reviews, you’ll know that magical realism is one of my favourite things in fiction – I think it turns a story into a fable and even though I know that’s not how the world works, I kind of wish it was. So I ended up really enjoying the story and have added more Francis Hardinge books to my wishlist. 14/09/16
The House At The Edge Of The World – Julia Rochester
I enjoyed this book. It’s about twin siblings who lost their father as children when he fell/jumped off cliffs near their home in Devon. As adults they begin to suspect that all is not at they were led to believe and start to investigate what actually happened all those years ago. I liked the mystery aspect, and the family drama and how the little clues fell into place. Good book. 16/09/16
The Malice of Waves – Mark Douglas-Home
I like the character of Cal, the ‘sea detective’ and this is the third book in the series about him. Set in a small Scottish island community, the book is more about the people on the island than about Cal, and while still an enjoyable read, I didn’t like it as much as the first two because I missed Cal being the centre of the story. I thought the mystery was cleverly resolved though, and while there was some will they/won’t they romance stuff, it didn’t detract from the story as it may have with a less deft handed writer. 20/09/16
Ruby – Cynthia Bond
This book was beautiful and shocking and heartbreaking and magical – Although Ruby was the title character, and we learn her terrible story and understand how she descended into madness (or was she really haunted…?) for me the main character was Ephraim, the gloriously meek yet determined man who loved her enough to bring her back. Ruby’s life story was all the more shocking for being plausible – as a poor black woman in America’s past she was completely powerless. Sexual abuse, ritual abuse (voodoo and occult) poverty, abandonment, loss, poor Ruby had a lot to put up with, and the well meaning (?) church ladies were only making it worse. I loved Ephraim for defying both the church and the pagan bullies to come to her rescue. Great book. 25/09/16
Cuckoo Song – Frances Hardinge
This is a fairy story which is both modern and ancient. Modern in that it’s set in the not too distant past (post war Britain) and ancient in that the fairies are not the Disney winged glittery things, but powerful complex and dangerous magical beings (think Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell). With fewer places to hide in the modern world, the magical people behave like any other creature whose habitat is under threat and become more aggressive. A family is caught up in the struggle and as in all fairy tales, the normal family jealousies and petty squabbles give power to the fairies mischief. The story was both exciting and cleverly thoughtful – I really enjoyed it. 30/09/16
All My Friends Are Superheros – Andrew Kaufman
This is a short wee book, more of a novella, but totally lovely. I really, really enjoyed it – it’s sweet, deep, totally original, wacky, beautiful – the list goes on. I had it on my kindle for a while without reading it, and boy am I glad I finally did. It’s now up there with my all time favourite reads. 01/10/16
Born Weird – Andrew Kaufman
This is a longer book than All My Friends Are Superheroes, and more set in the real world (although of course with a hefty dose of magical realism). A family come together at the time of the death of their grandmother only to discover that she had attempted to bless them as babies, but that the blessings had worked out more as curses and explained their strange and unsuccessful lives. Again, I loved it, a mix of fable, family drama, humour and pathos – great! 02/10/16
The Tiny Wife – Andrew Kaufman
A man discovers that his wife is shrinking – at first imperceptively, but soon the shrinking becomes more noticeable, and then dangerous as the couple fear the wife will disappear completely if they don’t figure out how to stop the shrinking. Andrew Kaufman has once again produced a beautiful, wise and entertaining fable which I loved! 03/10/16
The Waterproof Bible – Andrew Kaufman – 5.10.16
Since I’m NINE MONTHS!!! behind in writing up my book reviews, I had a look on Amazon to remind me what this book was all about, it all came back to me when I read a review by S. Shamma and these words lifted straight from that review sum up exactly how I felt about the book (I hope S. Shamma doesn’t mind being quoted by me…)
“This book, or shall I say ‘bible’, is full of visuals, metaphors, allegory and all other forms of imagery. It is satiric, yet biblical – at the same time it is a love story that is cliché-free. From floods, to moments of enlightenment, to a meeting with God, to blindness, to thunderstorms and saving lives, this book will take you on an exciting journey of self-discovery and awakening. You will be left bewildered by the end of it, with so much happening but very little explanation to any of it. Yet, that’s the beauty of this novel, the unexplainable is what makes it so fascinating.
Call it a case study on the search for the true meaning of life, a serious discussion of God, faith, and religion, a light comic romp, or a love story. Whatever it is, it will get to you. It will make you question life, connect with these characters at some level and take a deeper look within yourself. But it will also make you sit with a smile on your face while you read it, chuckling at all the funny bits as you appreciate Kaufman’s originality and wit.”
Dark Matter – Blake Crouch – 8.10.16
Fun page-turner sci-fi thriller romp from the guy who wrote Wayward Pines. (Sorry, can’t remember any more since I’m so late in writing it up).
Swimming Home – Deborah Levy – 11.10.16
This book gets very divided reviews on Amazon, and I was lent it by my book group friend who said she couldn’t make head nor tail of it, and perhaps I could enlighten her after reading it. I’m not sure I was at all enlightening except to suggest that maybe the confusing storytelling was intentional to reflect the mental health issues of the disfunctional middle class family whose holiday in Nice is spiralled into badness by an unexpected guest. Unlike most people on Amazon I didn’t either love it or hate it.
A Year Of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman -BOOKGROUP- 16.10.16, 22.10.16
When I finished reading Marvellous Ways, I went straight back to the beginning and read it again, partly because I really enjoyed it, but largely because I was quite confused about the plot and who was who and what had actually just happened. It all became clear on second reading, and I would recommend reading it twice as you can appreciate things more with the benefit of hindsight (I think). I love a bit of magical realism and the tale of the long life of Marvellous ways and the people who interacted with her is both magical and marvellous as well as being deeply satisfying.
The Wonder – Emma Donoghue – 28.10.16
This was a really interesting and moving book. Set in Ireland’s past, a girl is claimed by her family to be a ‘wonder’ or miracle because she seemingly doesn’t need to eat at all. A nurse just returned from working with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean war is brought over from England to observe the girl, along with a nun and ascertain whether a miracle really is happening, or if it’s a scam. The book delves into human motivations both noble and otherwise and how our life experiences can affect what we do. I liked it.
Dark Matter – Michelle Paver – 01.11.16
This is a spooky literary ghost story, mostly set in the antarctic and is very atmospheric. Odd, magical, surreal, well written, compelling, fun.
The Long Earth, The Long War, The Long Mars, The Long Utopia, The Long Cosmos – Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett – 6.12.16
Because this is the last ever book in this series, since the lovely and wonderful Terry Pratchett is no more, I decided to have a marathon re-reading of all the previous Long Earth books before reading this one. I think with hindsight that was both a good and a bad idea. Good, because, yes I do forget lots of stuff when it’s been a while since I’ve read a book, and therefor miss why things are significant, or how people are connected with each other, and bad because I think the series started really well, and then went a bit down hill for me, and I got (sorry to say it, but it’s true) bored of the whole thing during the process. Sorry.
A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig – 15.12.16
I love Matt Haig – he’s a fabulous writer with heaps of emotional intelligence (am I being pretentious talking about emotional intelligence?). This is a kids book, but it contains so much wisdom and optimism, while at the same time being quite dark and sometimes violent, that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think kids would love it too. I recommended it to my daughter, who’s just started out as a primary teacher, and she agreed that for older primary kid it would be a great class book around Christmas Time.
Here I am – Jonathan Safran Foer – 21.12.16
I loved Everything Is Illuminated, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close because of their quirky oddness and uplifting wisdom. I really wanted this book to be another one like them, and it really isn’t. What it is, is a well written drama about a complex and slightly falling apart Jewish/American family with some laugh out loud moments and some poignant moments. If I had not read the author’s other books, I probably would have liked this on its own merits, but I couldn’t really get over my disappointment at it not being quirky like them.
The Thing Itself – Adam Roberts – 27.12.16
Adam Roberts merges philosophy, sci-fi, thriller, and atmospheric spooky antarctic adventure perfectly in this clever, entertaining and thought provoking book.
Gold Fame Citrus – Claire Vaye Watkins -10.01.17
I thought this book was mostly well written and kept my attention. It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopian type thing set in a drought ridden California which has been compared by some to Mad Max or Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trillogy. The writing was poetic and literary and plot and characters were interesting enough. I was annoyed at one point by a run down of the genetic adaptations of the futuristic animals to the dry conditions which was just ridiculous – as a former geneticist, I enjoy a bit of science, even pseudo science, and this imagining of genetic variations has been really well done in other books, such as The Long Earth series. I know it was probably just meant to be a bit of fun, but still, it annoyed me how silly and implausible these imagined animals were.
All The Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy – 20.01.17
I really loved The Road, and this book was recommended to me by a woman whose opinion I respect, and it’s a well regarded American classic, but, I found it a real chore to read. About young men/boys running off to be cowboys through the southern American states and into Mexico. There’s lots of fighting and horse wrangling and male posturing and coming of age boy stuff that just kind of bored me. Sorry.
Warm Bodies – Isaac Marion – 27.01.17
I saw the film of this quite a long time ago (which I loved) and I usually much prefer to read a book before seeing the film (for instance, The Gild With All The Gifts should definitely be read before seeing the film) but I still really enjoyed this book – maybe because I had forgotten enough of the film, or because it’s not really a story where the twists are important as much as the beautiful quirkiness of the storytelling. I loved the love story twist on the zombie genre.
This was a bookgroup read and I was one of only two members of the group who finished it. The other girl loved the book and instantly wanted to read the other books in the series, whereas I hated it and couldn’t wait for it to end! I’ve written more about it in my book group reads page.
Stone – Adam Roberts -13.02.17
Another interesting and different Adam Roberts Sci-fi book. In a world where everyone has lots of nano-robots inside them, curing all illness and injury instantly and making it possible to customise themselves as easily as thinking about it, one man who had committed a crime (we’re not told what it was for much of the book) has all his nano-technology removed, and is confined to his own personal prison ‘planet’. He is then mysteriously rescued in exchange for agreeing to commit another crime. He has great difficulty trying to fit in and hide without his nano-tech and he also faces philosophical questions about the morality of what he is being asked to do. Good book.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson (18%) -18.02.17
This is one of those ‘American Classics’ that people say you should read and I really tried to read it and like it, but I found it such a slog – really couldn’t warm to it at all, so I gave up after 18%.
The Novel Habits of Happiness – Alexander McCall Smith – 24.02.17
I do enjoy a bit of Alexander McCall Smith – these Isabel Dalhousie books are always gentle – gentle forays into philosophy, gently family dramas and gently mysteries and yet I don’t get bored of them (although I’m still waiting for the newest one in this and other M McC S books to get cheaper on Kindle as I never pay more than three or four pounds for a book unless its something I am (almost) literally dying to read!).
Wild – Cheryl Strayed – 2.3.17
I loved the film of this book, and although I don’t usually want to read memoirs, especially the sort of new agey read how I found myself kind of book, and largely because I do have a romantic notion of wanting to do a big pilgrimage type walk at some point, and if I remember rightly also because it was going cheap on Amazon Kindle, I bought it and really enjoyed reading it. Even though the narrator is not always likeable, I still warmed to her and found the tale of how she managed the long walk totally gripping and inspiring. Still want to do one … (I think….).
The Wolf in the Attic – Paul Kearney – 09.03.17
I thought this was a really well written classic folklore type fairy tale set in Oxford in the 1920 and with cameo appearances by Tolkein and CS Lewis. A young girl with a tragic past in her Greek homeland comes to Oxford with her father and ends up on the run with travelling folk who have their own mysterious powers/secrets. I thought it was thought provoking and gripping, and I’ve just found out that the writer lives here in Northern Ireland – good on ‘ye, Paul Kearney!
People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks -BOOKGROUP- 18.03.17
This was my book group read and I found it very enjoyable. It follows both the modern day story of a restorer of ancient books and the story of the book (or more specifically – the people of the book!) that she is examining. It’s a 15th Century Jewish religious book, found in Sarajevo. As the restorer finds clues to the books history – like a tine fragment of butterfly wing caught between the pages, or the specific pigment used, or drops of salt water, we are told the story behind the people who originally made the book, the artist who illustrated it, the scribes who wrote the words, the binder who put it together and the people who hid it from warring factions and nazis. The book has lots of historic depth as well as interesting facts about old books, and all the characters are well rounded and each of the stories are full enough to make the reader care about the characters.
The Lonely – Andrew Michael Hurley – 26.03.17
Bleak ‘gothic’ tale of religious extremists (catholic and pagan) getting up to weird stuff for all kinds of different reasons. I think I liked it alright, but didn’t love it. (Sorry, I’m so late writing it up that I barely remember.)
Jailbird – Kurt Vonnegut – 31.03.17
I just love Vonnegut’s dark, sharp satirical wit – his books are surreal and crazy but in the best way. I often laugh out loud while also nodding in sage agreement at his deft portrayal of the oddness of the human condition.
Handling The Undead – John Ajvide Lindqvist -04.04.17
Lindqvist wrote ‘Let The Right One In’ and my introduction to him was through the brilliant movie adaptation. This book is a thoughtful and ‘realistic’ look at what would happen if the recently deceased were reanimated. Alive – but not really; themselves – but not themselves, the undead are creepy but still the bereaved will go to great lengths to try to hold on to the last spark of their lost loved ones.
Shtum – Jem Lester – 08.04.17
I thought this book was really well written and compelling. It is the story of a family struggling to cope with their severely autistic son. The Shtum of the title refers to the fact that the boy has no spoken language, but also refers to the lack of communication between all the family members especially between the becoming estranged parents and the boy’s father and his own father. Lots of family history is explored, and each character ‘goes on a journey’ (it may be corny, but it’s classic storytelling for a reason). I found it a very moving and satisfying read.
The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes – 13.04.17
A slightly confusing but nicely written book about an older man reminiscing over his youth. With themes of unreliable memory and misunderstandings I found it interesting enough but didn’t really warm that much to any of the characters.
The Distant Echo (Detective Karen Pirie, Book 1) – Val McDermid – 18.04.17
Very often murder mystery type book really annoy me, but I enjoyed this one (and other Val McDermid books I’ve read). I liked getting to know the characters, and was intrigued by the plot, and able to guess some but not all of the twists – which is how I like it (so I can feel a bit clever, but not be annoyed that the plot was too obvious).
Different Class – Joanne Harris – 26.04.17
I remember being totally blown away by the book Gentlemen And Players which is the first in the trilogy of books set around a fictional boys grammar school of which this it the third. Neither the second book, nor this one, for me at least, lived up to the greatness of Gentlemen and Players, which had a twist which really shocked me. Saying that, it was still a very compelling and rewarding read about secrets and misunderstandings and the far flung consequences of people’s actions. Well worth a read.
Little Big – John Crowley – 16.05.17
This is the kind of fantasy I like – dark and gritty and ‘real’ in that it’s mostly set in the real world with real people with complex characters, as well as a nice dose of ‘magical realism’ or interventions by the fairy folk in the timeless old school style of ancient untrustworthy ‘earthy’ fairy folk. I liked the love story which kind of started the book, and was a bit disappointed when the focus moved on from those characters, although I got the point that it was making that all our stories are only part of the overarching story which encompasses lots of different people.
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton – BOOK GROUP – 25.05.17
I read this book a while ago, but re-read it as it was my book group read and I wanted to refresh my memory about it. This is what I wrote about it the first time I read it:
I enjoyed this historical novel set in 17th Century Amsterdam – I liked the writing style, and felt quite sympathetic towards the characters. About a young girl sent off to an arranged marriage having to find her place in the household full of secrets and bad feeling. One aspect of the book I particularly liked was the almost magical way the mysterious miniaturist sent packages to the young bride of models that showed an uncanny knowledge of the intimate happenings of her household -I felt this part of the story wasn’t properly resolved (unless I missed something – I do occasionally fall asleep when reading, and then I might get a bit muddled about what I’ve read and what I haven’t!). I liked the ending. On the whole I wasn’t blown away, but still an enjoyable read. 4/12/14
I will update the ‘my book group reads’ page as soon as my website host ‘Mr Site’ has stopped giving me errors whenever I try to. (They offer you payment to recommend this service to others, but I don’t think I could bring myself to subject anyone else to the grief I regularly have using this service no matter how much money they offered.)
Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch – 29.05.17
This is a sweet and fun book about the supernatural beings that inhabit London – it is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Fabulous Neverwhere, in that traditional London landmarks and place names are tied up with deeper mythical meaning or characters. I enjoyed it, but it is not on the same level of greatness as the writings of Neil Gaiman.
The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean-Paul Didierlaurent and Ros Schwartz – 03.06.17
This book was written in French and translated. It is about a guy (I forget his name) who works in a factory that pulps up old unwanted paperbacks. He feels remorse for all the written words that he is responsible for destroying so he secretly saves random pages, and then reads aloud from them on the tube train on his daily work commute. He gets quite a following of people who want to hear him read from these random book excepts and there is also a very sweet love story/mystery treasure hunt when he finds a flash drive containing the diary entrants of a girl who he falls in love with and has to work out how to find her and meet her. A very nice and different book, and I liked the random pages from the rescued books.
The Power – Naomi Alderman – 10.06.17
Wow – this was a very interesting and powerful book. The premise is that women around the world start to develop a mysterious power where they can cause intense electric shocks to people they touch. Some have the control to use it for healing but mostly it’s used as a weapon. The dynamics of the whole word change when suddenly men are physically afraid of women. It’s kind of like Animal Farm in that the power corrupts and (many of) the women become every bit as abusive wielding their power over men as (many) men in the past had been towards women. The book is quite disturbing, very compelling and very thought provoking.
The Lubetkin Legacy – Marina Lewycka – 20.06.17
I have really enjoyed all the Marina Lewycka books I’ve read. This (like the others) follows relatively ordinary people in often tragic circumstances but tell the story in a way that is laugh out loud funny as well as poignant and tragic and lovely. The characters are flawed but still likeable. I hope she writes more. Under The Skin -Michel Faber – 28.6.17This book is quite weird and creepy. I have seen the film, but quite a long time ago (and my memory is terrible) and I remembered the film being weird and creepy too. It’s basically about aliens pretending to be human and kidnapping hitchhikers to fatten them up and ship them home as meat. The aliens are furry quadrupeds in their natural form (they are surgically altered to pass as human – left in a form which is painful and humiliating for them) and they judge by appearances and therefore wouldn’t dream of eating sheep as they appear too ‘human’ to them, but consider people to be so beast like that they don’t have qualms about eating them. There is an alien activist who travels to earth to investigate claims that human people are in fact sentient, but the workers harvesting the meat manage to convince him otherwise. It’s kind of thought provoking in terms of how we judge others by how similar they are to us in appearance.
The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney BOOKGROUP 11.07.17
This was my bookgroup read for September, but seeing as I was going on holiday to Cork (where the book is set) I read it in July while immersed in the scenery, accents and character of the book’s setting. (Now I’ll have to try really hard to remember enough about it to join in with discussion – for me I have to time my bookgroup read very carefully so I’ve just finished it in time for bookgroup for optimal remembering!). Lisa McInerney writes a blog called ‘The Arse End of Ireland’ under the pseudonym ‘Sweary Lady’ and the book is quite sweary! I found the opening a bit confusing, as it describes the metaphorical ‘death’ of a boy as he metamorphoses into the ‘man’ who is losing his virginity to his schoolgirl girlfriend. Once I got my head around the symbolism (and realised there wasn’t actually a dead boy on the doorstep) I was able to enjoy the beautiful writing. The book is one of those comedy of errors where an accidental murder starts a spiral of tragic (although darkly funny) events. I felt invested in the characters enough at the end to want to read to sequel. I’ll be interested to see what the other ladies thought of it.
The Mermaids Singing – Val McDermid – 13.07.17
Another enjoyable murder mystery by Val McDermid.
Little Star – John Ajvide Lindqvist – 15.07.17
Like all books by Lindqvist that I’ve read, this one is dark and eerie and disturbing. A mysterious foundling has a strange lack of empathy but an incredibly beautiful singing voice. Bizarrely her adopted brother enters her into the Scandy X-factor type singing contest and she develops quite a following. While the book’s conclusion is disturbing, I also found it frustrating because I wanted to know more about who ‘little star’ actually was or where she came from which the book never explains.
How To Stop Time – Matt Haig – 17.07.17
I just love Matt Haig – I’ve loved everything I’ve read by him. This book is about a man who ages incredibly slowly and has flashbacks to various events in history. He carries the sadness of a man who outlives his loves as well as a yearning to find his long lost (also long living) daughter. The book has intrigue and peril from the ‘baddies’ out to experiment with his stem cells, and in my opinion stands proudly beside David Mitchell’s fabulous Bone Clocks books in scope and general wonderfulness!
Salt – Adam Roberts – 26.07.17
This was Adam Roberts first published novel, and the one I enjoyed the least, I have to say. The things that I love about Roberts later works are the dark humour and the originality of the ideas, and both of these were absent from this much more traditional sci-fi story. A colony ship containing different ethnic/religious groups lands on a very salty planet (hence the title) and the difficulties in terraforming such an unwelcoming climate add to the tensions which already exist between the groups with such different world views. Still, it was very well written and people who like that kind of thing would probable really appreciate it. It reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s first published book (called Strata, I think) which was also a traditional sci-fi and my least favourite of his works).
Flowers For Algernon – Daniel Keyes – 30.07.17
This is a novella which I have heard of several times as an archetypal sci-fi story but I’d never actually read it, so I thought I would. I was slightly annoyed by the books preface which basically gave away the whole plot – even if it is a classic, and everyone is supposed to already know what happens, I didn’t, until just before reading it – thanks. Still, it was well done – written in the first person as diary entries, so the changes the character goes through are evidenced by the style and content of what he writes as much as by being privy to his interior monologue. An interesting and enjoyable read.
I Am Legend – Richard Matheson – 02.08.17
The film based on this novella is one of my all time favourites, although that may be due in no small part to how very easy on the eyes Will Smith is in it. My son Christy has been on at me for ages to read the original because it’s ‘so much better than the film’ and since we share books on Kindle, and he has it, I really had no excuse. So I read it, and I enjoyed it – it’s different from the book in several ways. Better though….. hmmm, not sure, ’cause, y’know, Will Smith.
Sweet Thoughtful Valentine – Alexander McCall Smith – 03.08.17
An Isabel Dalhousie short story (well, novella) that is typical and quite enjoyable if slightly annoying. I was a bit irritated by AMcCS randomly naming a boy in Charlie’s nursery class Paul. Paul is a name that peaked in popularity in the 1960s and has declined to the point of virtual non-existence in recent times, and it seems like he just picked a name from his own youth rather then researching what boys names are popular with children born three or four years ago. A small niggle, but hey – he’s earning a mint so he should put the extra effort in.
The Sea – John Banville – 12.08.17
The Sea is a beautifully written ‘coming of age’ tale told as flashbacks by a recently widowed elderly man who runs away to the seaside town of his childhood holidays and relives the memories of his first love.
Release – Patrick Ness – 11.08.17
I have loved some of Patrick Ness’s books, but I’m not totally sure about this one. It’s a young adult book, but it felt to me a little too adult with fairly explicit homosexual sex scenes. This causes me some consternation, because I don’t want to be ‘homophobic’ or prudish, and I’m not sure I would be so wrongfooted by the same level of explicitness in heterosexual sex. Also, I do see the point that many young adults will just read adult and explicit books anyway, so surely it’s better for these subjects to be tackled in novels based on characters with their own experiences and their own age. It was well written and sensitively handled and the main character is very sympathetic and likeable. Hmmm.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne M. Valente – 17.08.17
I think if I had read this book as an older child/young adult I would have totally loved it and it would have been on my all time favourite books list, but sadly I think I’m just too old and cynical now to fully appreciate the sweet fairy tale/morality tale nature of the story. I did enjoy it, but with a slightly sad sense of my own innocence lost.
The Boy on The Bridge – M. R. Carey – 20.08.17
I absolutely loved The Girl With All The Gifts, and I loved this sequel/prequel almost as much. Carey tackles the age old post apocalyptic zombie genre with real intelligence, sensitivity and originality. I also loved the epilogue which gave you an update on the characters from the first book.
A Darker Domain – Val McDermid – 28.08.17
This is the first Val McDermid book which I got a bit bored and irritated by. I was also slightly annoyed by the constant reminders that the female detective was slightly overweight and self-conscious about it – I guess it’s part of her character development, but I just thought it was overdone to the point of being jarring. Saying that, I still have more Val McDermid books on my wishlist, and this one was not so bad as to put me off reading them if they get cheap enough for me to buy them!
The Trouble With Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon –01.09.17
I enjoyed this book – I was very quickly drawn in by the writing style and the characters of the two young girls trying to find God in their suburban street in the hopes that his discovery would prompt the safe return of a woman who had gone missing. They uncover secrets and we the readers are given more points of view and insights into what was really going on with the characters in the street. It’s a story of misunderstanding and prejudice and it took me back to my childhood growing up in a similar estate in England in the 1970s.
Gretel and the Dark – Eliza Grenville – 7.9.17
This book was described on Amazon as a cross between The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas and Pan’s Labyrinth. I’ve read the book (but not seen the film) of The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas and I thought it was okay but not great, and I’ve seen the film of Pan’s Labyrinth and I think it’s as close to pretty damn perfect as a film can get, and I totally love it (although I have to cover my eyes and ears at one or two nasty bits), so I was quite excited to read this. Unfortunately for me, this book is much closer to The Striped PJs than to Pan’s Labyrinth. Although several characters re-tell each other fairy tales throughout the book, and they parallel the main story, there is no magical realism. (I can kind of see how a film adaptation might magic it up a bit, maybe by acting out the fairy tales with puppets or other cool animation, like the deathly hallows story in the Harry Potter movie), but in terms of the book, it was just people telling stories that I already knew. There are twin threads of story in the book, and I was quite intrigued as to how they would come together and be resolved, but when the reveal did come I felt it was a huge let down. Saying that, the writing is good and the book kept my interest, and stands proud in its own right. I think I was just disappointed because I was expecting something it wasn’t.
Orphans of the Carnival – Carol Birch 18.09.17
I remember being really blown away by Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie, so I was looking forward to reading this novel. It’s historical fiction, based on a true story of a girl with Hypertrichosis, sometimes called “werewolf syndrome”, which is a genetic condition where people are covered in hair. She is a talented singer and dancer and is fought over by various ‘freak show’ carnival owners before one decides to marry her to keep her for himself. The book is an interesting study of how people judge others and also of how things have changed in the hundred years since it was set (although I’m sure people with differences like this are still stared at, even if they’re not actually stared at as paid attractions). I enjoyed the book, although not as much as Jamrach’s Menagerie. It had a modern day thread which I didn’t think really added that much.
Northern Lights – Philip Pullman – 23.09.17
One of my book group ladies has recently read the His Dark Materials series which reminded me of how much I loved them, so I decided to re-read the three books (also, to refresh my memory before I read the new one which just came out – although I’m waiting for it to get cheaper because ten pounds is just too much for me to spend on a book). Again, I really enjoyed the experience – fabulous characters, just the right mix of ‘science’ and mysticism to explain the parallel universe stuff and the angels and harpies and spectres stuff. I love the armoured bear and the ending of book three is so sad and nobel – I loved the film they made of book one, but I dread what Hollywood would do to the ending if they did make more films.
The Amber Spyglass -Philip Pullman – 01.10.17
The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut – 04.10.17
Kurt Vonneguts books are dark sci-fi comic genius. The plot seems like nonsense, but at the same time it’s terribly deep and philosophical. The characters are weird yet sympathetic and I find myself chuckling while reading but also feeling the pain of the hapless pawns in the narrative.
The Keepers of Truth – Michael Collins – 10.10.17
This book is written by and Irish Writer who lives in America and it is set in an American town in decline. The main character is dissatisfied with his job writing for the local newspaper because he wants to write deep and philosophical editorials, but all he gets to do is cover recipes and high school sport. when a man goes missing and body parts are found he gets carried away in the brief flurry of national media interest in his stories and suspicion begins to point at him as having somehow orchestrated the whole thing. I found the book sometimes interesting and sometimes a bit of a slog to get through.
The Falling Sky – Pippa Goldschmidt – 15.10.17
This is an interesting book about a young female academic working the highly competitive field of astronomy. She makes a discovery which could rock the scientific community and negate years of previously held theories and must deal with hostility and suspicion from her peers. She also is troubled by a tragedy in her past and the anxiety and depression which this leaves her with. I like books with a bit of science as well as good characterisation, and this was a pretty good example.
Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 1) – Jodi Taylor – 19.10.17
This was one of those cheap kindle deal books that Amazon is always trying to tempt me with, and on this occasion I’m glad they did! It’s the first in a long series of books, set in an institute of historical research that has access to working time travel machines which they use to check up on facts from history. The book is very stylish – like a darker (and sexier) Jeeves and Wooster – it has history, adventure, romance, humour and dastardly baddies. I really enjoyed reading it, so much so in fact, that I ordered the next seven books in the series on my kindle in the middle of the night!
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Phillip K. Dick – 23.10.17
I recently watched the old Blade Runner film, and then the new one (I remember really enjoying the old one in the past, but found it a bit boring and misogynistic this time around – which is kind of interesting from a cultural habitus perspective – things we used to find acceptable we no longer do….) anyway, I thought I’d read the novella which sparked it all, and I have to say I think the original story is much better than either of the films did justice to. The main character is more complex and well rounded and with the added bonus of being privy to his interior monologue we can know him much better (which is why books are almost always better then their film adaptations…).
Gut Symmetries – Jeanette Winterson – 28.10.17
This novel is beautifully written – like a prose poem, and delves deeply into thoughtful philosophical ground. The (or one of the) main character/s is a theoretical physicist, so high brow quantum stuff is discussed, who falls in love (or lust?) with fellow physicist, Jove, and then later also his wife. The book is surreal and has some magical realism (which always makes me happy) as well as some disturbing scenes, but also lots to make the reader think, and I found myself musing on it even after I’d finished reading it.
The Dead Fathers Club – Matt Haig – 02.11.17
Matt Haig is one of my favourite living writers, and his ‘reasons to stay alive; is one of the few non fiction books I’ve read and really both enjoyed and valued for its wisdom and general helpfulness. I think this book is kind of a modern retelling of Hamlet for young people and is told from the point of view of a young boy whose father has recently died and who is visited by his ghost asking him to avenge his death. The plot thickens and is genuinely scary and tense in places, and makes you wonder for a while what is real. It’s not my favourite of Matt Haig’s books (but that’s like saying cava is not my favourite fizzy wine, because prosecco is, but saying that I still really like cava).
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman – 10.11.17
This was my bookgroup read for November, and I may not have read it otherwise as I’m reluctant to read these very popular books because often my tastes are quite different to mainstream. At first I really didn’t like the book, or rather I really didn’t like the main character, but as the story grew and so did my understanding of Eleanor’s personality and the life events that shaped her, she and the book really started to endear themselves to me and by the end of the book I loved her (and the lovely guy who befriends her). I thought the writing was very clever in bringing the reader on a journey at the same time as Eleanor’s – in fact, I thought the writing was just brilliant full stop – I really enjoyed this book! (And I didn’t see the part of the twist/reveal at the end which impressed me too.)
The Real Town Murders – Adam Roberts – 13.11.17
For me, this was a real return to form for Adam Roberts (in terms of the order I read his books, not the order he wrote them) after I’d been disappointed by Salt. Set in a future society where most people choose to live almost the entirety of their lives within virtual reality, a private detective who doggedly refuses to live any of her life in VR is hired to solve an intriguing case. I found the characters interesting, the story exciting and compelling and the novel generally thought provoking and fun to read.
A Symphony of Echoes (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 2) – Jodi Taylor – 14.11.07
I enjoyed this second book in the St Mary’s series at least as much as the first. More adventure, romance, mystery and historical facts. I’m late writing up this review (just for a change) and have read five more books since, including Gnomon, by The Fabulous Nick Harkaway, and I was very excited when the same historical incidents which I had just been reading about in this book also featured in it – don’t you just love it when the books you read serendipitously fit together like that?!
Faithful – Alice Hoffman – 15.11.17
I enjoyed this story about a girl who was driving during an accident which left her high school best friend in a vegetative state for the rest of her life. She suffers terrible depression and her own life is derailed. We follow her relationships, good and bad, with family, friends and boyfriends, and her slow journey to recovery.
The Boy Made of Snow – Chloe Mayer – 25.11.17
Although mostly focused on the small boy narrator, this war time story follows several characters through their own personal struggles – the father who is shell shocked and changed, the German prisoner of war, far from home and lonely, the mother who finds comfort and excitement with the German, the older men of the town full of pent up frustration and aggression, and the homeless man who (in one graphic and brutal scene) becomes the (perhaps) innocent victim of their misplaced rage. It’s a very moving and compelling tale with depth and layers of meaning.
Gnomon – Nick Harkaway – 18.12.17
Wow, what to say about this book…..? I love Nick Harkaway, especially Angelmaker, and I was so excited about this book that I paid the (usually for me unconscionable) £9.99 for the kindle version! One thing about kindle books is that they don’t really convey the brick like qualities of a really long book, and this book is seriously long. In some ways similar to The Real Town Murders, which I read recently, in that in some realities of the book (it took me about two thirds of the book to figure out which versions of reality were the real ones, and even then I wasn’t sure) are based around a sort of virtual reality computer/internet controlled life. The book is quite dense, in that there are long sections that you really have to think about, and several words that I had to stop to look up, as well as obscure references to ancient Greece and the classics (which was where having just read the St Mary’s book came in useful!) There did come a point where I felt gripped by the plot (quite far in, due to the baffling nature of not knowing what was real for so long…) and I missed the book when it was (finally) over, although I did find parts of it at least a bit of a slog to get through.
The Dry – Jane Harper – 24.12.17
I enjoyed this Austrailian whodunnit about a policeman brought back to his hometown where he and his father were vilified and practically chased out of town years ago when his high-school girl friend was found dead under mysterious circumstances. This time, his male school friend is found dead as well as his wife and young son, and the main character works with the new local policeman to overturn the verdict of murder/suicide. Lots of old prejudices and hard feelings surface as clues are followed and the mysteries, both old and new, are unravelled.
Nightbird – Alice Hoffman – 28.12.17
I quite liked this story of a magical family who were cursed generations ago so male children were born with wings, although I found it a bit too sweet saccharine American wholesome young adulty for my taste.
The Monarch of the Glen – Neil Gaiman – 29.12.17/Black Dog – Neil Gaiman – 30.12.17
I’m not generally a short story liker, but I love Neil Gaiman, and I did actually really enjoy both this and Black Dog which I read immediately after it. Both are set in the American Gods universe, with Shadow as the main protagonist and they’re set after the American Gods story finished. Typical stories of an everyman faced with mythical and mysterious (and dangerous) happenings, told in the brilliant way only Neil Gaiman can.
The Last Dragonslayer – Jasper Fforde – 01.01.18
A while ago I went through a Jasper Fforde phase (reading the Thursday series of books) and I had this one on my kindle for ages, and I’ve never felt led to read it. My interest was peaked by seeing a trailer for a TV adaptation, so I decided to read it before watching. It’s a good fun book – I found the comedic writing style slightly annoying to begin with, but when I got used to it, I actually found the main character very likeable, and the story interesting, thought provoking and clever. I must try and find the programme now to watch.
An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro – 04.01.18
After the slightly flippant style of The Last Dragonslayer, I thought I would try something more grown up, and this was another one that’s been on my kindle for ages, and never read (I saw a resolution by someone in the fabulous Rick O’Shea facebook bookgroup to read the books they have before buying more and I was inspired to try better that way). Ishiguro’s style is very subtle and understated, and in his other books (at least, certainly in Never Let Me Go) the shocking nature of the plot offsets the gentle pace of the storytelling. This book is not really shocking – it’s about a retired artist in Japan just after WWII ended. The changing attitudes towards the state and authority, along with the very honour based society cause him grief as he was involved in painting propaganda posters during the war. Family, memory and misconception are themes and although I found the book took a little getting into, I did enjoy the read.
Time Travelling with a Hamster – Ross Welford – 07.01.18
After reading one grown up book, I’m back to the young adult genre. I found this book after entering a competition to win the new book by Ross Welford (who I hadn’t heard of) and after a little research this looked like a book I’d like, and it was very much so. Young adult books are a bit hit and miss for me, I don’t like preachy or saccharine books, or ones that try too hard to be ‘down with the kids’ but I though this one hit a really sweet spot of being funny enough, but not cringingly, and sad enough (again not cringingly) I loved the ‘sciency’ bits (or sci-fi I suppose since they were about time travel…) and I loved the mix of Indian heritage and Geordie accent of the main father, son and grandfather protagonists. I liked it so much that I instantly bought another book by Ross Welford, which I am reading next.
What Not to do if You Turn Invisible – Ross Welford – 12.01.18
(I’m writing this in April 2018, three months after reading the book, so I’m struggling to remember it all….) I do remember being slightly disappointed by this one after loving Time Travelling With a Hamster so much. I think it was good, but not great. The female protagonist accidentally creates invisibility in herself when trying to treat her raging acne, which I know is a metaphor for wanting to hide her appearance, and the characters did go through journeys. I did like the relationship between the girl and her friend/boyfriend, but I was a little distracted by the techniques of storytelling rather than caught up in the story. Maybe my hopes where just set too high after reading the first book.
The Good People – Hannah Kent – 22.01.18
This was my book group read for January. I have read several books where the fairy folk play a role, so unlike the other book group ladies I was quite familiar with the superstition and fear invoked by the belief in them. Most of the books I’ve read though, assumed the fairy folk were real and either included their point of view, or at least followed their exploits, whereas this book did not contain any magical realism, but was firmly rooted in the real world, but in a time a place (1820s rural Ireland) where poverty, ignorance and religion make people slaves to these superstitions. The main character, was recently widowed, and the sole carer for her grandson after the death of his mother. The child was disabled, and the plot of the book revolves around the character’s belief that he was in fact a changeling (that he had been swapped for a fairy child) and the lengths she went to try try and induce the fairies to change him back. It was a very thought provoking and interesting book and a good read. (I’ll say more about it on my book group reads page).
Artemis – Andy Weir – 28.01.18
I read this because I loved the Martian so much, and I have to admit that from the description I read I thought he’s just re-written the same book but with the moon instead of Mars, and a woman instead of a man as the protagonist, but actually the book is very different. It’s like if an old episode of Deep Space 9 or Battlestar Galactica (both of which I loved) did a film noir old school detective pastiche episode – very stylish, funny and still quite tense and exciting. I liked it a lot. The main character (tearaway with a heart of gold) has to escape both the law and the bad guys to save her own neck and save the world (or the moon – which is inhabited in a big space station type city). I thought it was intelligent and thought provoking while still being really fun to read.
The Narrows – James Brogden – 02.02.18
I loved the opening of this book – it was very reminiscent of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (one of my favourite books) but, for me at least, the further into the book I got, the less I liked it. I thought it just got a bit silly towards the end and too big for its boots. I liked the other-real parallel existence of society’s outcasts (like in Neverwhere) and I liked the tie in with lay lines and old pagan religion, but i think it lost its way and its charm towards the end.
The Bees – Laline Paull – 11.02.18
This book was described as Watership Down for bees, and in a sense it is, in that it’s written from an anthropomorphised bee’s point of view. Maybe throw in some Handmaid’s Tale as well – because a lot of the bee’s life experience was based around a very oppressive religious and military ruled structure. Hmm, I quite liked it to begin with, but I found it quite a slog to get through, and not being that knowledgeable about bees I didn’t know how much was based on actual bee society and how much was just made up, and that kind of annoyed me. I found the ending kind of predictable too, and I was frankly relieved when the book was finished so I could move on to something more to my taste.
The Belle Sauvage (The Book Of Dust book one) – Philip Pullman – 12.02.18
I’ve been desperate to read this book since it was published, but couldn’t bring myself to pay the £10 it was asking for a kindle book. When I had to travel alone to England to visit my mum who was sick in hospital, I figured I’d treat myself, and it really did make the hours of travelling, and staying on my own in a hotel much more enjoyable. It’s a prequel to the Northern Lights trilogy, and very much in the same spirit. I missed the character of Lyra (although she is in the book as a baby) but still very much enjoyed the romp and I can’t wait for the next books to come along.
A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman – 15.02.18
This book was recommended to me by my friend from book group who often shares my tastes, and I started it some time ago and hated it. I thought it was yet another cynically mass-produced, sentimental crowd-pleaser, smug full of itself…. (yes, I was quite rude!). Another friend from book group said she loved it, so I thought I’d give it another go, and this time my response couldn’t have been more different (this time I was still travelling alone visiting my Mum in hospital, and feeling a bit emotionally fraught – it’s funny how our mood and state of mind can affect our feelings about books….). I was very quickly gripped and fully emotionally connected to Ove (to the point where I wept over the hotel breakfast buffet, and again on the train back to the airport (embarrassing)), and I devoured the book and loved it. Weird.
The Wire In the Blood – Val McDermid – 20.02.18
I was still on the return leg of my trip to England, and needing a break from crying in public (see previous review!) so I thought a Val McDermid would pass the time in an entertaining way, without putting me through the emotional wringer any more. I found the whodunnit book gripping, shocking, intelligent and very readable – perfect for sitting in the airport for hours and reading on the plane home.
The Knife of never letting go (Chaos Walking book 1) – Patrick Ness – 26.02.18
I’m a big fan of Patrick Ness, and I’ve had this book on my kindle for a while. For some reason I had mixed it up in my mind with a book called ‘Across The Nightingale Floor’ which I read ages ago, but when I finally realised that it was a different book altogether, I started reading. It’s a dystopian YA book set on a world where a human colony vessel landed a generation ago, and things went badly wrong. The main character, Tod, runs away from his village when he discovers terrible secrets about their past, and meets a girl who is the lone survivor of a scout ship from the next human colony vessel planning to land on the planet. A quirk of the planet is that all human males, and also all animals broadcast their thoughts for anyone to hear – making for a weird society. Tod’s pet dog is a brilliant character, with a totally believable doggy vocabulary and inner monologue! It’s a running-away-from-the-bad-guys-not-knowing-who-to-trust-sweet-blossoming-relationship-coming-of-age-tale, which I loved. I instantly wanted to read the next two books in the trilogy, but since they were cheaper as second hand paperbacks than as kindle books, I had to wait for the snail mail to bring them.
The Reason I Jump – Naoki Higashida – 26.02.18
I read this short non-fiction book to fill the time while waiting for the next two books in the Patrick Ness trilogy to arrive. It’s written by a Japanese boy on the Autism Spectrum as his attempt to explain his outlook on the world to ‘neuro-typical’ people. As a teacher I am interested in Autism as a significant minority of the children I work with are on the spectrum. The book was an interesting reminder that the actions and behaviour of autistic people (and everyone really) doesn’t always reflect their/our actual thoughts or emotions. This is a theme that can be explored to good effect in fiction by directly contrasting a character’s actions with their inner monologue – it’s frustrating, but true to life (at least in my experience) that we can give people completely the wrong impression just by not expressing ourselves well, or being too reticent to say what we mean.
The Gray House – Mariam Petrosyan and Yuri Machkasov
I started to read this while I was still waiting for the Patrick Ness books to arrive. I only got about 20% into it when they did and I (quite gladly) gave it up, at least for now – I guess I may return to it at some point. It’s a very strange book – translated from Russian, and set in a boarding school/home for boys with various disabilities. The school’s society seems to be totally feral with ‘Lord of the Flies’ boys against boys survival of the fittest stuff going on. I found the style a little turgid and depressing, and I was not a hundred percent sure what was going on for at least some of the time. Maybe it’s too intellectual for me…?
The Ask and the Answer – Patrick Ness – 08.03.108
Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness – 12.03.18
These are big bricks of books, but I devoured them non the less. The books tackle some really big themes (war, terrorism, power and its abuses, sexism, racism (or in this case, species-ism) without shying from hard hitting violence and death (considering they are young adult books) yet in a way that is totally readable, indeed compelling and in a way that makes the reader really care for the characters and struggle with their moral dilemmas along with them. Well done (again) Patrick Ness for fabulous writing.
A Second Chance – (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 3) – Jodi Taylor – 15.03.18
A Trail Through Time – (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 4) – Jodi Taylor – 18.03.18
No Time Like the Past – (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 5) – Jodi Taylor – 23.03.18
I had a bit of a St Mary’s marathon, and enjoyed every minute of it. Jodi Taylor manages to strike just the right balance of irreverent humour, genuine thrilling excitement and well rounded character development, with interesting historical detail thrown in almost as a bonus! (I’ve never really been a history buff, but I’ve been learning historical stuff from the time-travelling madcap adventures and then I’m excited when something historical comes on TV and I’m familiar with what happened because I’ve been there with the St Mary’s crew). If it wasn’t for the fruity bits, I’d recommend them for school kids to get excited about history (I was quite embarrassed by reading one of the sex scenes while in the vets waiting room – I always think other people can somehow see what I’m reading!).
The History of Bees – Maja Lunde, Diane Oatley – 27.03.18
I thought this book was much better than ‘The Bees’. This one does not anthropomorphise bees, but rather the three connected threads of narrative follow people connected to bees at different points of history. They centre around: a man in the 18 hundreds in Holland (if memory serves me right…) who develops a new type of bee hive for beekeepers, a man in the 2 thousands, who is a bee farmer, and a woman in a dystopian future where the extinction of bees and other pollinators has lead to worldwide famine. Although bees are a unifying theme, the book is really a study on society and relationships, particularly family dynamics and father/mother son relationships. In my review of ‘The Reason I Jump’ I talked about how frustrating it can be when we don’t seem able to communicate our true thoughts and feelings, and this is illustrated really well in this book in a broken relationship between a father whose interior monologue is full of love and pride for his son, but his spoken words and actions show only judgement and distance, and his son who sees only the outward signs and is crumbling with resentment and rejection. I found the book very readable while still being really profound and thought provoking. Highly recommended.
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline – 30.03.18
My daughter recommended this book to me, and I wasn’t really sure I would like it, but popped it on my wishlist anyway, and when it was going cheep one day on Amazon Kindle, I went ahead and bought it, and I actually really enjoyed it. It’s an homage to the eighties pop culture – old movies, old music, old text-adventure video games and dungeon and dragons, even though it’s set in a not too distant future where life in the real world is pretty grim, but most people spent most of their time in a 3D virtual reality world called The Oasis. When the oasis’s creator dies, his will reveals hidden clues buried in the oasis, with untold wealth and ownership of the computer programme offered as a prize to anyone who can solve the clues and beat the quest-like challenges they point to. Our ‘everyman’ hero has to battle against the evil corporate bad guys who throw money and personnel into winning the competition, and he bands up with some interesting friends on the way. I saw the movie after reading the book – the movie is very different, with typical hollywood prettying up of characters and toning down of some of the darker aspects of the book, and while still fun, was much less enveloping and satisfying than the book.
Mutiny on the Bounty – John Boyle – 08.04.18
I’ve heard (of course) of the mutiny on the bounty, but wasn’t really familiar with the story, so this retelling from a different perspective and with different sympathies than the famous films was perhaps a little lost on me. It was recommended to me by a school teacher who always reads one of my books with her class, so it’s been on my wish list until it got cheap enough for me to buy (I always add books of interest to my Amazon wish list, and check it every now and then to see if anything is on offer). I liked rather than loved the book. It hooked my interest quite quickly, but then I did get a bit bored in the middle (it’s hard for books to keep my interest in that middle passage where it’s neither setting the scene, or ramping up the excitement for the denouement) but I did get back into it towards the end, and then when I’d finished reading it, I was interested enough to go and google the actual historical details of the story.
The Mysteries – Lisa Tuttle – 10.04.18
This book was particularly interesting after my last book group book, which as about the very strong belief in the fairy folk by people in rural Ireland in the 18 hundreds. This book touched on all the same superstitions except that in the world of this book, there was truth behind them. The lead character had a personal interest in ‘disappeared’ people since his father vanished in his youth (although while his memories of the event were quite magical and mysterious, it turned out that his father rather prosaically just ran away from his family) , and then when he became an investigator looking for other lost people he became embroiled in the thin spots between our world and the world of ‘the good people’ or ‘good neighbours’ and the trickery of their ways. I found the book very readable and enjoyable.
Lights Out in Wonderland – DBC Pierre – 18.04.18
This book is written by the same person who wrote Vernon God Little (which I loved and I also loved the play adapted from the novel which I went to see in the Lyric theatre in Belfast a while ago). Lights out in Wonderland was a much tougher read. It’s about a guy in a downward spiral of depression, alcoholism and drug addiction, who escapes from rehab with the intention of having one last bender before committing suicide. it’s very wordy, as the guy just pontificates and philosophises about everything and I found it so heavy going that I almost gave up on it. However, the plot picks up when he manages to get his friend into a tonne of trouble and goes to great lengths and crazy imaginative schemes to try and get him out of trouble. By the time I got to the end, I was quite fond of both the character and the book (set in England, Japan and Germany) and I was glad I’d stuck with it.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong? – (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 6) – Jodi Taylor – 22.04.18
What can I say, another St Mary’s book. Not my favourite so far, but good enough that I’ll keep reading the series.
I’m Travelling Alone: (Munch and Krüger Book 1) – Samuel Bjork – 28.04.18
This was an interesting and well written murder mystery thriller. I liked it enough to put the next book in the series onto my Amazon wishlist.
The Butterfly Tattoo – Phillip Pullman – 30.04.18
Not a bad book, but nothing like as compelling as the Northern Lights trillogy. Young star-crossed lovers struggle through difficult circumstances with dark themes of crime, terrorism and abuse.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne – 08.05.18 – BOOKGROUP
I actually really liked this book, the retrospective life story of a gay man growing up in Ireland. It was at times very funny in a lovely dark satirical way, and while it was quite contrived (almost to the point of irritating me) it was also satisfying and enjoyable.
Out of the Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis – 13.05.18
I first read the C.S Lewis space trilogy as a sixteen year old, and remember being blown away by them. They are very allegorical and a bit preachy, which I liked as a very earnest spiritual teen. I don’t think I loved them as much as a jaded almost fifty year old – got a bit irritated by the preaching (sorry). This one (Out of The Silent Planet) still has a lot going for it – I liked the aliens and the sci-fi space travel stuff.
Perelandra – C.S. Lewis – 20.05.18
Perelandra is, I think the most preachy of the Space Trilogy books, and if I’m honest I found this one a bit of a drag to get though.
That Hideous Strength – C.S. Lewis – 30.05.18
That Hideous Strength has a more interesting plot than Perelandra, and I enjoyed it more. I liked the Arthurian legend stuff, and I did quite warm to the female protagonist, even though the book was written in a very different time when a woman’s place was in the home and the attitudes were a bit dated (although probably quite progressive for the time).
Gingerbread – Robert Dinsdale – 05.06.18
This is one of those ‘modern day fairy tales’ type of books and it did lean heavily in style on the darker European fairy tales. It is not a magical realism type book, rather a real life playing out of fairy tale themes. An ageing man spiralling into mental breakdown due to grief/post traumatic stress/dementia, takes his young grandson into the forest of Belarus and hides from society haunted by memories of horrors that happened during the war. It’s quite disturbing and dark.
Lies, Damn Lies and History (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 7) – Jodi Taylor – 09.06.18
And The Rest Is History (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 8) – Jodi Taylor – 13.06.18
An Argumentation of Historians – (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 9) – Jodi Taylor – 17.06.18
I really enjoyed these three St Mary’s books (after finding the previous one a bit meh). Jodi Taylor has a knack for combining slapstick comedy with interesting and compelling plots and genuinely well rounded and likeable characters. I felt thing – laughter, tears, fear etc and found myself musing about the implications of the plot in between reading sessions. I’m missing the books now I’ve caught up with real life (ie, book nine was only recently published and there is no book ten yet!! ) I think I’m going to have to break my own short story veto and read the St Mary’s short stories to get another fix before the next book comes out.
A Man with One Of Those Faces – Caimh McDonnell – 23.06.18
I liked this book – set in Dublin, about a man whose life is thrown into turmoil and danger after a case of missing identity makes him a person of interest in Dublin crime circles. It’s humorous and madcap while still managing to have a warm heart and an interesting plot. I liked it enough to buy and immediately read the next in the series.
The Day That Never Comes – Caimh McDonnell – 28.06.18
The protagonists of the previous book have set up a private investigation firm and get involved in another crime caper. I liked it, but not as much as the first book, so I’m holding off from buying the rest of the series just yet.
Jack Glass – Adam Roberts – 1.07.18
This book has been on my wishlist for ages, and when my son got me a kindle gift voucher for my birthday, I splurged and bought it. I love Adam Roberts, and this is up there with his best. Sci-fi, interesting philosophical musings and a slightly off the wall style similar to Kurt Vonnegut – great book! (Thanks Danny!)
Less – Andrew Sean Greer – 03.07.18
This is a coming of (middle) age story about a gay writer turning fifty and looking back over his life and relationships while travelling as an excuse to miss the wedding of his ex. The journey of the protagonist is from grumpy pessimism to a less grumpy less pessimistic attitude and I found the book quite sweet and uplifting. The book is self aware enough to poke fun at its character’s angst over things that really aren’t that bad compared with what some people have to live through (although don’t we all do that – agonise over little things, I mean?). I liked the hopeful ending.
Black Echo – Michael Connolly – 09.07.18
This is quite an old book, I think, and a lot of its themes were based around Vietnam war veterans and all of the baggage that goes with that. It’s a murder thriller with a jaded doesn’t-play-by-the-rules-but-gets-the-bad-guys cop protagonist. Fun enough.
The House of Unexpected Sisters – Alexander McCall Smith – 11.07.18
More typical Mma Ramotswe gentle mystery and philosophical musings with a love of Botswana and sweet family values. Nice to dip into from time to time.
White Silence – Jodi Taylor – 12.07.18
I loved this book – I’m a big fan of the St Marys series of (sci/fi?) historical fiction and so I was excited to read this first in a new series book about a young woman with a sort of extrasensory ability to see people’s auras (and as the book progresses she discovers other abilities). It’s a wonderfully atmospheric book and the excitement and peril ramps up while still keeping it’s quirky charm and skilful characterisation. Jodi Taylor is a very talented writer and I always enjoy reading her books.
Witch is When It all Began – (A Witch P.I. mystery book 1) – Adele Abbott – 13.07.18
I once read a guide to writing best selling fiction, and it said just take a really successful book/series and change one or two key details (like the gender of the protagonist, and the country it’s set in for instance) and re-write it. This book has taken the Harry Potter story and made Harry a young woman with a fledgling private detective agency. The parallels are quite unsubtle! I did quite enjoy the first book, it’s fairly witty and fun, and Adele Abbott has achieved success because there are millions of them in the series.
Witch is When Life Got Complicated – (A Witch P.I. mystery book 2) – Adele Abbott – 15.07.18
So, I bought more books in the series after reading book one (actually, I can’t remember now if I bought these after, or if I just bought two or three together because they were on offer?) and I read this immediately after book one. Hmm, starting to annoy me now. The jokes are very repetitive and the book often over-explains things to the point of me wanting to poke it with sharp things.
Witch is When Everything Went Crazy – (A Witch P.I. mystery book 3) – Adele Abbott – 16.07.18
Really annoyed by this series now – won’t be buying any more.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell – Robert Dugoni – 18.07.18
This book has been compared to A Prayer For Owen Meany and I think the comparison holds (at least to an extent). Sam was born with red eyes, and suffered persecution and bullying both from the nuns at his catholic school and his peers. He is able to use these experiences as an adult and eye doctor to help others and the book is readable, poignant and ultimately uplifting.
Home – Amanda Berriman – 22.07.18
This is the story of a family (young mother, baby boy and three year old girl) who are struggling with the welfare system and the stresses of life generally. It reminded me of the wonderful film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ as a portrayal of the bleakness of poverty and the flashes of goodness to be found in ordinary people (as well as some very bad people). It’s narrated by the little girl, and even thought the writer is a primary school teacher, I (as a nursery school teacher myself) didn’t feel that the voice was authentic as a three year old (saying that, it would be very difficult to tell a cohesive story with a truly authentic three year old voice!)
The Nothing Girl – Jodi Taylor – 27.07.18
Another lovely book by Jody Taylor (my new writer crush!). I think this was supposed to be a stand-alone book, but ended up having both a short story and a full length sequel. As an introvert myself (and a bit of an odd person…!) I’m always drawn to characters who are crippled by shyness or other social anxieties. The main character in this book (I can never remember people’s names) stutters, and has been raised to believe she will never be able to cope with normal life. After meeting a man who is considered to be a black sheep but who is actually lovely, she is able to break away from her controlling family and find her true self. It has quite an old fashioned feel, but is a very enjoyable mystery/family drama/romance and I loved it!
Little Donkey – Jodi Taylor – 28.07.18
It is a testimony to how much I love Jodi Taylor that I have even read all her short stories (as I generally think short stories are a waste of space). It has the mix of humour, quirkiness and good storytelling that can be expected from Jodi Taylor with a sheep giving birth on the stage of the nativity play as an example!
The Something Girl – Jodi Taylor – 05.08.18
More intrigue, mystery, romance and character development it the gentle countryside setting of Frogmorton Farm. I love Jodi Taylor (have I mentioned that??).
Snap – Belinda Bauer – 08.08.18
I quite enjoyed this murder mystery. A young mother is abducted and murdered from a motorway hard shoulder after breaking down leaving her three young children alone in the car. The son grows up having to care for his little sisters when their dad suffers a breakdown, and his does this through petty crime, but his driving force is finding out who took his mother. A policeman starts investigating the cold case and comes into contact with the boy and they end up working together. Pretty good.
Circe – Madeline Miller – 15.08.18
This is the retelling of the story of Circe, the character from Greek Myth who is famous for turning sailors who come to her island into pigs. I read it while on holiday in Greece and loved it! I have only a rudimentary knowledge of Greek mythology, but it was fun when characters appeared who I know about, and the story gave a whole new perspective and sympathy to Circe who I had thought was a baddie before.
Mary Swann – Carol Shields – 17.08.18
The hotel where we stayed while on holiday in Greece had a lot of books that previous holidaymakers had left behind which were free for the taking. I love Carol Shields, and this book is not available on Kindle, so I lifted the paperback of it and read it as we travelled home. It’s a fun book about a group of people coming together for a symposium celebrating the work of an obscure American poet who died before her only book of poems was published (murdered by her abusive husband). All the academics were guilty of twisting and embellishing the few facts known about the poet, and mystery is provided when the few copies of her works, as well as other precious artifacts connected with her begin disappearing from libraries, museums and private collections.
Tin Man – Sarah Winman – 19.08.18
This is a beautifully written story of first love, unrequited love and friendship through the years.
A Bachelor Establishment – Isabella Barclay (Jodi Taylor) – 22.08.18
This is entirely the type of book I would normally avoid like the plague: a period drama romance/bodice ripper (!), but, I LOVE Jodi Taylor and want to read everything she writes (even short stories!). I did enjoy it, although not as much as her other books.
The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie – 27.08.18
This was a very sweet and quirky love story, although with enough meatiness to make it a worthy read and to keep my interest.
I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes – 07.09.18
I follow the Rick O’Shea book club on Facebook, and this book is always being praised in the group. I think it was cheap on kindle one day, and so I bought and read it. Not my cup of tea at all. It’s a Boy’s Own adventure type book – spies, heroes etc. the main character was just too strong, brave, noble etc for me to find him either sympathetic or relatable. Lots of people obviously disagree with me though…
Bel Canto – Ann Pratchett – 11.09.18 BOOKGROUP
This was my book group read for September, and I found it totally engrossing. A group of people attend a dinner in a south American country with a famous Soprano performing. A rebel group storm the party hoping to kidnap the country’s president, who had pulled out of the party at the last minute because his favourite soap opera was at an exiting point and he didn’t want to miss it. A siege ensues, and we get to know both the rebels and the guests as the drama drags on to it’s inevitable but terrible conclusion.
Mister Memory – Marcus Sedgwick -16.09.18
This is an interesting book about a man who’s affliction is that he remembers everything – every little detail of every moment of his life. Set in Paris in 1899, the book has murder, mystery and corruption. I’d been looking forward to it for a long time, waiting for the kindle price to go down, and when it did I eagerly bought and read it. I was a little disappointed, it didn’t quite live up to my hopes, but still a good read.
Moon Over Soho: The Second Rivers of London novel (A Rivers of London novel Book 2) – Ben Aaronovitch – 20.09.18
This is the second book in the fun series, set in present day London, but with supernatural characters juxtaposed with normal stuff. The main character works for the ‘special’ police who investigate that kind of thing and is learning magic from a mentor to help him nurture his gift. I enjoyed the book and have bought more from the series.
Force of Nature – Jane Harper – 25.09.18
Five women set off into the Australian outback for a corporate team building survival hike and only four return…. This is the sequel to The Dry (which I really loved) although it works as a stand alone, only the policeman was in the first book as well, and it might help to know some of his backstory. It was a good book, I enjoyed it and didn’t see all the twists coming. I don’t think it wowed me as much as The Dry, but I would still buy and read the next book by Jane Harper bases on this one.
Lethal White – Robert Galbraith – 29.09.18
I couldn’t wait for this, and even paid the full £10 for the kindle book, having read and loved the previous books in the series and also loved the tv adaptations. Normally I’m annoyed by the love interest aspect of detective stories, but I have to admit I’m totally invested in the will they/won’t they relationship between Robin and Strike and that was nearly more important to me than solving the crimes. More please!
The Ruin – Dervla McTiernan – 06.10.18
This book was set in Ireland and written by and Irish/Australian. I enjoyed it very much. A jaded older policeman (or guard as they say in Ireland) is given a cold case related to one of his very first cases as a wee rookie. A little boy he rescued from a house where his ‘junkie’ mum was dead upstairs turned up dead in a river as an adult and although he is not allowed to investigate this case, which is classed as a suicide, by looking into the old case he turns up clues as to what happened in the present.
The Revolving Door of Life – Alexander McCall Smith – 13.10.18
I’ve had this instalment in the Alexander McCall Smith 44 Scotland Street books for a while, having bought the paperback from a charity shop, and decided to read it. As is often the case with AMcCS books, I’m not that enthused to start reading, since ‘sure, they’re all the same’ but then when I do I really enjoy them. It was fun catching up with all the Edinburgh characters and I enjoyed the gentle thoughtful writing style.
The Eye Of The Reindeer – Eva Weaver – 19.10.18
I bought this book because it was set in Finland, and my son Christy was living in Finland at the time. It’s sort of in three parts, the first being about a teenage girl, Ritva, sent to a women’s ‘lunatic asylum’ in the early twentieth century, in an era when women were routinely sent away for terrible reasons and left to die in these awful places. It was a bit like Orange is the new Black but without the humour. I found this bit of the book a struggle and almost gave up, but for me it picked up in the next bit, when Ritva befriends a ‘Sami’ or Inuit girl, Martta, from the asylum and they manage to escape by sailing from the small island in a coffin! A good third of the book followed their wilderness survival epic as they travelled through snowy wastes, hunting and gathering to find food and warmth. They part when Martta makes a move on Ritva, who recoils, (although secretly she kind of has the hots for Martta as well) and the last part of the book is about Ritva finding a home with the Inuits in Lapland and becoming a Reindeer herder, as well as reconnecting with her family and all the drama that unearths. On the whole I liked it….
Mother Night – Kurt Vonnegut – 23.10.18
Another weird, wise, wacky Kurt Vonnegut war story. It’s about a man who was either a war criminal or a successful double agent in WWII. It explores the subjects of guilt and what is acceptable due to the cultural norms around you and/or how far one should go in the war effort. I like Vonnegut’s style, but I must admit I found this one a little inaccessible.
Dark Light – Jodi Taylor – 28.10.18
I LOVE Jodi Taylor (I know, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…!) and of all her series, this one is probably my fav so far. It’s the sequel to White Silence (and I very much hope the second in a series of many more to come…) The main character, Elizabeth Cage, is a shy retiring bookish, lovely totally relatable (to me anyway) woman with unique (or are they…..) supernatural powers, where she sees people’s aura’s and can tell if people are being truthful or well meaning or wicked or whatever. She also seems to stumble upon things like ancient gods and spirits and pagan stuff so there is fabulous fairy lore, and it’s told in Jodi Taylors wonderful down to earth style. There are bad guys and good guy and sexy possible love interest guys (although, thankfully that’s not overdone). One small niggle was that although there are many strong female characters, Elizabeth seemed to somewhat rely on being rescued at the end of the day by big burly men.
Wanting – Richard Flanagan – 04.11.18
Alternate chapters of this book tell the different but connected stories of the governor of a Van Diemen’s Land settlement, Sir John Franklin, overseeing the convicts and ‘natives’ and, a little later in time, in London, Charles Dickens writing and staging a play about Sir John’s demise in an ill fated Arctic expedition. Both Dickens and Sir John were ‘wanting’ in that they were lusting after forbidden women. For married father of (at least ten?) Dickens, it was a young actress in his play and for Sir John it was a young aboriginal girl whom his childless wife had chosen to adopt. Both men’s lives were twisted and both men acted out of character due to these desires. Also, I guess Sir John’s wife was wanting because of her desire to be a mother, although she actually treated her adopted ward really badly. I found the book a little heavy going, although the Dickens stuff was quite interesting, as I knew he’d left his wife for a young actress, and I actually felt more sympathetic towards him after reading this novel than I had previously.
American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld – BOOKGROUP – 08.11.18
My bookgroup read for October/November was this novel based on the life of Laura Bush. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of this book – it read to me (and one other of my book group buddies) at bit too much like Chic Lit for my taste, but to be fair, as the book went on I did get kind of gripped and wanted to read on. Early on, I was annoyed by people only being defined based on their romantic relationships and the clothes they wore – in fact, all through the book there seemed to be an obsession with describing everyone’s outfits. The descriptions of the American aristocracy reminded me of The Gilmore Girls (!) and I much preferred the ‘normal’ american family on Laura’s side. I liked it well enough, without being blown away by it (it seemed a bit overly long).
Whispers Underground – The Third Rivers of London novel – Ben Aaronovitch – 12.11.18
This is my third Ben Aaronovitch book, and in contrast to the similar themed Adele Abbot books, which became more and more irritating as the series went on, I’m finding myself becoming a bit of a fan girl over these books. The main character (forgotten his name!) is in the ‘special’ branch of the London police who help the mainstream police when supernatural things become mixed up with crimes. He discovered a latent magical sensitivity in the first book, and is working with a mentor with lots of studying of Latin and concentration and stuff to hone his skill. I’m enjoying the developing characterisation, I think the plots have the right mix of humour, complexity and human character and I love the mythological elements. Definitely one for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere (which I am, hugely!).
The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson – 16.11.18
I really enjoyed watching the Netflix series based on the book, so when it was cheep on Amazon Kindle, I gave it a go. (Also it was recommended by the lovely Neil Gaiman!). It was interesting to see the ways the tv show differed to the book – the characters in the tv show where one family, whereas in the book they were an almost random group of people brought together to stay in the spooky house (the tv show used the same names for their characters). There are lots of anecdotes and quotes from the book used in the show, but in different contexts. It was a funny book – very atmospheric (I did find myself spooked by it) but nothing much actually happened.
Fly By Night – Frances Hardinge – 30.11.18
This is a very poetically written and readable fantasy type book. Set in an alternative 18th century England and with a 12 year old girl as it’s main protagonist, the book tackles some deep and interesting themes about religion, politics and freedom of thought.
The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas – 05.12018
I really enjoyed The Psychology of Time Travel. It’s like a mystery whodunnit set in set in the context of a world with time travel. It’s a refreshing take on the genre with a mainly female cast and I found it gripping and satisfying.
Broken Homes – The forth Rivers of London book – Ben Aaronovitch – 10.12.18
Yay – still loving this series. Fab. More please!
The Snow – Adam Roberts – 14.12.18
This book grabbed my interest at the beginning – as a kind of post apocalyptic survival story of a woman trying to stay alive in a world inexplicably shrouded in snow. I got a bit bored in the middle of the book, when the woman had been found by the American military (who are in charge, even though the book is set in London – typical American’s thinking anyone wants/needs them to save the day!) and is living on a military base. The end got a bit exciting/weird when the reasons for the world wide wipe out are explained. Not my favourite Richard Adams book, but still a fun(ish) read.
Foxglove Summer – The fifth Rivers of London book – Ben Aaronovitch – 20.12.18
The Hanging Tree – The Sixth Rivers of London Book – Ben Aaronovitch – 24.12.18
I’m writing this in February (so two months after reading these books) so I don’t really remember specifics except that I’m still really loving the series, and can’t wait for the next one to get cheaper so I can buy it. On that note, I’m a bit annoyed at Ben Aaronovitch (or his publishers) for charging £9.99 for a kindle book – that’s too much! Be like Jodi Taylor – an equally brilliant and successful writer who doesn’t charge the earth for her books – that’s why I buy hers as soon as they come out.
And Now For Something Completely Different – Jodi Taylor – 26.12.18
This is the annual St Mary’s Christmas short story, and even though I generally don’t like short stories, I bought and read it because I love Jodi Taylor and everything that she writes!
The Dark is Rising – Susan Cooper – 03.01.19
A book I was reading (I can’t remember now what it was) described the bookshelf of one of the characteres, and it contained lots of my favourite books as well as this series, which I don’t think I’d even heard of before. Intrigued, I bought and read this first book. It’s a classic fairy/Authurian myth crossing over into real life sort of thing with the nobel but naive young character finding he’s ‘special’ and stepping up to save the day with everyman insecurities. It was good without being fabulous. I’ve added the rest of the series to my Amazon wishlist, although it’s not like I’m dying to read them or anything – I’ll buy them if they get really cheep.
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier – 14.01.19 BOOKGROUP
Unfortunately, as I read this, I was mixing it up in my mind with Jane Eyre, and so the reveal I was expecting (from Jane Eyre) never came and somewhat confused me until I realised my mistake! Like many stories from that bygone era, a miserable older man (in his forties) sweeps a young (twenty year old!) girl off her feet in a holiday romance, marries her and then pretty much ignores her in his horrible big house with his horrible housekeeper. I found this aspect of the story a bit creepy, although I acknowledge that young girls seemed to go for miserable older men in the past, and to be fair, as an unmonied girl with no family, she didn’t have many options, so marrying up was perhaps a wise move. The story got a bit more exiting towards the end with twists and turns and one even began to warm to the miserable husband (a little). The book did evoke quite a lot of discussion in the book group -most of us enjoyed the read.
The Big Over Easy – Jasper FFord – 24.01.019
Jasper FFord’s pun ridden murder mystery annoyed and amused me in about equal measures. I did like the characters of the detective and his new sidekick, and the mystery aspect was well told, with a complex and satisfying plot. All the nursery rhyme based jokes were perhaps a little too much for me to take, though. I’m looking forward to reading Jasper Fford’s new stand alone novel, but again I’m appalled by how much they are charging for it on kindle, and I’m waiting for it to get cheeper.
By The Pricking of her Thumb – Adam Roberts – 30.01.19
I was very excited to read this book, having loved The Real Town Murders so much (this is the sequel). Set in a future where most people pretty much live in virtual reality, while their bodies are attended to by machinery, a private detective who insists on remaining in the real world is hired by one of the four richest people in the world to look into a nebulous possible murder. I forked out more than I usually pay for a kindle book, and it didn’t disappoint. I found the plot engrossing and captivating, and I was hugely emotionally affected by the things that happened to the main character. Wow – really loved the book!
The Chalk Man – C.J. Tudor – 01.02.19
This book came with glowing reviews from Stephen King, no less, which must surely have been faked, because it really didn’t deserve the hype. It’s an okay murder mystery with a middle aged man remembering through flashbacks about disturbing events from his childhood. Actually, I think on reflection, it was better than okay – it did keep my attention, and the various threads of the story did resolve in a satisfying way. I think I was just led to expect more than the book delivered, and was therefore dissappointed.
The Monsters We Deserve – Marcus Sedgwick – 03.02.01
This is an interesting and quite spooky book about a writer who is on a self imposed isolated retreat to a cabin in the Alps to try and get his writing mojo back. He has a love/hate relationship with the Novel Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and also feels a great sense of guilt over the circumstances surrounding the writing of his most successful novel (when he reveals why he felt so guilty I thought, ‘sure, isn’t that what lots of writers do and therefore no big deal?’, but hey, what do I know?). He is visited by the ghost of Mary Shelley and also her creations, and it is up to the reader to decide whether these visitations really happened, or if the writer was just losing his mind. It was an enjoyable read, although doesn’t make it onto my favourites list.
Lost Memory of Skin – Russell Banks – 10.02.19
I found this book very compelling. The writing is easy to read, and yet rich and layered and both the two main characters were really well drawn. One, a young man with a sad neglected childhood who is addicted to porn and became a convicted sex offender when as a twenty year old he arranged to meet up with a 14 year old girl who he ‘met’ online but when he did the police were waiting to arrest him. The other character is a morbidly obese proffessor with a photographic memory who befriends the young man when researching homeless sex offenders. The proffessor has secrets of his own and the reader must decide if the stories he tells of his past or the allegations brought against him are the truth. I found myself thinking about the book and the characters throughout the day. I’m guessing the title refers to the fact that neither character has any kind of physical relationship with other poeple. I’ve a feeling this one will stay with me for a while.
The Clever Guts Diet: How to Revolutionise Your Body from the Inside Out – Michael Mosley – 12.02.19
I quite like Michael Mosley, and as someone who has an almost magical ability to gain weight while eating very little, I’m quite interested by weird things in our bodies that effect how we handle food and weight and stuff. For me, the depressing takeaway from this book is that the magic biofauna that naturally skinny people have, don’t thrive in the bodies of naturally fat people (like me) because our genetic make-up doesn’t support the environment they need. Poops to that.
Precious and Grace – Alexander McCall Smith – 16.02.19
I realised that I’d missed one in the Mma Ramotswe No 1 detectives series, so I bought and read this. It was nice, I guess, but I found myself a little annoyed by the huge prices charged (by the publishers, I suppose) for these books that are churned out by the dozen (I’m including all the different A McCall Smith series) and are basically all the same – I imagine Mr McCall Smith scratching them out between his afternoon nap and a nice cup of tea and scones that someone brings to him, while waiting for the money to roll in. Perhaps I’m being unfair, and no-one is forcing me to buy them, and yet I do keep buying them. What does that say about me?
The Darkness – Ragnar Jónasson – 19.02.19
Having both holidayed in Iceland, and written a book set there, I was tempted enough to buy this Kindle daily deal about a near retirement Icelandic cop being pushed into a seemingly dead end cold case to keep her busy until she leaves, and stumbling upon deeper corruption and mystery. I liked it, it was fun. I already have another book by this author (bought ages ago and forgotten about) which I will now be more likely to read.
And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini -25.02.19
I loved The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Sons, so I was really looking forward to reading this. I have to say, I was a little disappointed. The book was worthy enough, and I kind of felt satisfied at the end, but I found the middle a bit of a slog to get through. Ah well.
An Accidental Murder – J. New – 26.02.19
I noticed my sister reading a book from this series in one of her holiday snaps, and since our reading tastes sometimes overlap, I checked it out on Amazon. I liked the premise of a gentle historical setting for solving crimes with a supernatural element – like Dorothy Sayers meets Casper the Friendly ghost. I bought this first book, but I was sadly underwhelmed. It was fun in places, but a bit simplistic and annoying. Ah well.
Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak – 08.03.19
I have loved everything I’ve read by Markus Zusak, especially I am The Messenger, so I was really looking forward to this book (so much so that I spent more than I usually do on kindle books). Mmmm. What did I think about it – I’m not really sure. I hated the beginning, which was like a boys own adventure, but when I got further into the book, I understood why that was a fitting start to the story. At my bookgroup we have a running joke about books having too many obvious allegories (a visitor to the group said this about a book and we all looked on stunned, thinking, ‘allegories, what allegories, what’s an allegory?!’) but I found myself thinking that about this book. I can’t decide if it’s suppose to be obvious that the whole story is an allegory. I did grow to really like and care about the characters, and I was moved by their backstory though.
The Night Raven – Sarah Painter – 15.03.19
I really enjoyed this urban fantasy novel, similar to the wonderful Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, except the main protagonist is a female private investigator rather than a male police officer. I’m looking forward to more in the series, and I’ve ordered more books by the writer.
Lies Sleeping (the Seventh Rivers of London book) Ben Aaronovitch – 20.03.19
I’m still loving Ben Aaronovitch’s supernatural police series. Bring it on!
The Spinning Heart – Donal Ryan – 27.03.19 BOOKGROUP
This was my bookgroup read for March. It’s quite a short book, which is good because I’d left it a bit late to read it before book group! Also, it was commented at book group that it was quite a dense and slow read, so it was good that it was short. I enjoyed the book, set in Ireland and told from lots of different points of view. I found it lyrical and interesting.
The Last Temptation – Val McDermid – 07.04.19
So, as is often the case, I’m writing this review four months after reading the book, and I’m struggling to remember. I looked at Amazon reviews, and I’m like, oh, yeah, that was quite good, I remember that bit… I think I enjoyed it. Amazon had the next six or seven books in the series for 99p each, and I’ve bought them, so hopefully I won’t hate them!
Hemlock and Hedge: Mystery (The Witches of Wormwood Prequel) – Ruby Loren – 09.04.19
This writer, Ruby Loren, was giving away the prequel to her Witches of Wormword series through a facebook link, so I went ahead and downloaded it, and I was really pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. So much so that I went right ahead and bought the next three books and also pre ordered the not-out-yet fourth.
Mandrake and a Murder: Mystery (The Witches of Wormwood Mysteries Book 1) – Ruby Loren – 15.04.19
The whole ‘you’re a witch with mysterious powers from an ancient and twisty family background and you’ve only just discovered it’ has been done many times, and I’ve tried reading a few with mixed results, but this series I really like. I hadn’t previously heard of the ‘cosy mystery’ genre, which apparently this is an example of, and I wouldn’t have thought it would be my cup of tea, when actually i’ve discovered it’s my whole afternoon tea with scones and possibly even bubbly. I like the writing style, the characters and the gently unfolding murder mysteries (and the talking cats).
Vervain and a Victim: Mystery (The Witches of Wormwood Mysteries Book 2) – Ruby Loren – 20.04.19
More lovely cosy witchy murder mystery stuff.
Feverfew and Fake Friends: Mystery (The Witches of Wormwood Mysteries Book 3) – Ruby Loren 25.04.19
I’m still enjoying this series, and the inevitable romance element is not annoying me (as it does in some books). I’m looking forward to the release of the next book in the series.
Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Graham Joyce – 01.05.19
This is a type of book that I really enjoy if it’s done well, as this one is. A girl has been missing for twenty years, since she was a teenager, and she turns up looking the same as she did, and claiming she’s only been gone for six months and that she was trapped in fairyland. Is she mad or delusional (and if so, why hasn’t she aged?) or did the story really unfold as she tells it…. This is traditional folklore fairytale storytelling which is both dark and deep.
Hope For The Best – Jodi Taylor – 08.05.19
This is the tenth book in the St Mary’s time travelling historians series, and still manages to be fresh, exciting, funny, tense and genuinely moving. While some writers (Alexander McCall Smith – I’m talking about you) churn out more of the same, Jodi Taylor books are always valid examples of great writing in their own right.
Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder – 23.05.19
While at work one day (I’m a supply teacher) with a class of seven and eight year olds, I picked up this book from their class library and started reading it (the kids were having ‘golden time’ when they get to play with ipads or lego and stuff, and while, yes, I should have been interacting with them, I was teaching by example how reading is a great pass time..) and kept reading until it was time to get them to tidy up. I remember starting this book years ago, and giving up, but this time I was hooked and bought it on my kindle to continue reading at home (no, I didn’t steal the book from the school!). It’s an introduction to the history of philosophy and also a fictional story which gets quite strange and meta and philosophical toward the end. I loved it!
Death At La Fenice – Donna Leon – 31.05.19
My lovely family surprised me by booking a family holiday in Venice to celebrate my 50th birthday, and I wanted to read a book set there during my stay (I love doing that on holiday!) . This is a Donna Leon murder mystery, and while I quite liked it, and I did enjoy seeing some of the places from the book, I didn’t love it. (I’m reading through my book reviews now – 4.10.19 – and only now realise I already read this one – and didn’t even remember!)
Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale – 05.06.19 BOOKGROUP
This was my book group read for June. It was somewhat similar to one we did a while ago (The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne) in that it is a coming of age novel about a gay man. I think overall, I prefered the John Boyne book, but I did like this one – the young man is a keen cellist and l liked all the factual bits about learning to play the cello.
House of Lost Dreams – Graham Joyce – 13.06.19
I was inspired to read this because I enjoyed Some Kind of Fairy Tale so much, and again this book has a healthy dose of mythology and magical realism. I found it harder to get into, as I didn’t warm to either of the main characters, and I thought there was too much flirting and sex, but I got more into the book as it went along, and ultimately found it satisfying.
Belladonna and a Body – Ruby Loren – 18.06.19
I’m still really enjoying this paranormal cosy mystery series.
The Strawberry Thief – Joanne Harris – 21.06.19
I really enjoyed this fourth instalment in the Joanne Harris Chocolat series. I love it’s Frenchness, and having seen the film, I can picture the characters (unlike some films where the actors are nothing like the way I would have pictured them in my head). Of course (as anyone who knows me will know) I loved the magical realism aspect also!
The Silver Mark (Crow Investigations Book 2) – Sarah Painter – 24.06.19
I’m still loving this paranormal private eye series.
The Lost Girls – Sarah Painter – 28.06.19
Described by Amazon as ‘ a dark and twisty supernatural thriller’ this book was right up my street. Different to Sarah Painter’s other books I’ve read, but equally as enjoyable.
Death Stalks Kettle Street – John Bowen – 02.07.19
This book is in my newly discovered genre of ‘cosy mysteries’. The two main characters are largely dismissed as inferior by others as one has cerebral palsy, and the other various mental health issues including severe ocd and a stutter. When they suspect fowl play in a series of seemingly random accidental deaths in their neighbourhood, they have to fight against the patronising attitude of the police and others and investigate the situation themselves. The blossoming relationship between them is sweet and the mystery is clever in that I came up with lots of possible solutions and was a little surprised by the actual reveal. Good book.
In The Light of What We See – Sarah Painter – 06.07.19
This is a time shift novel about a young nurse in 1938 and a modern day woman in hospital with various injuries and amnesia following a car accident. The two somehow see shadows of each other and we learn both their stories and how they can help each other. I liked it.
The Lost Man – Jane Harper – 10.07.19
Another Australian Murder Mystery by Jane Harper. It was very evocative of the hard existence of outback ranchers so you could almost feel the heat and oppression. As well as the mystery, which kept me guessing, it was an interesting human/family drama.
James Potter and the Hall of Elders’ Crossing – G. Norman Lippert
This series of ‘fan fiction’ books based on the son of Harry Potter was available for free download, so I gave it a go. The problem it that it’s in the form of a PDF and although I can view it on my kindle, and the page turning and everything works very well, for some reason my kindle only seems to be able to display in in a really tiny font, and my old eyes just weren’t up to squinting that much. I read a couple of chapters and it was pretty good (although not J.K. Rowling good) but I gave up due to the font.
Early Riser – Jasper Fforde – 16.07.19
This was on my wishlist for ages, and eventually I gave in and paid £4.99 for it (annoyingly, it’s since gone down to 99p!). I very much enjoyed this alternate reality book set in a world where humans hibernate because winters are so very cold and harsh. The main character was going to stay awake over winter for the first time in a custodial role and during the winter he uncovers dangers, monsters and corruption. As this is a Jasper Fforde book, it is darkly comedic and it was genuinely funny in places, as well as intriguing and gripping and the protagonist is likeable.
The Facts Of Life – Graham Joyce – 21.07.19
This is a story of a family of mother and seven sisters during the war years and the post war years in England. It’s part ghost story, part social commentary and part family saga, and I enjoyed reading it very much.
The Bear and The Nightingale: (Winternight Trilogy) – Katherine Arden
The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy) – Katherine Arden – 05.08.19
The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy) – Katherine Arden – 9.08.19
This trilogy reminded me a little of the book ‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent, which was a book group read of mine, in that they were both exploring the effect of the increase in influence of the Christian church in a society that had previously been very much defined by its pagan beliefs. Whereas The Good People is set in Ireland, and the actual existence of fairy folk is not implied, the Winternight Trilogy is set in Russia (or the regions which later became Russia) and in these books supernatural beings are real. Their ‘reality’ and power however are threatened by the change in people’s beliefs. Similar to Terry Pratchett’s ‘Small Gods’ and to a lesser extent, Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’ the continued existence of these beings is directly related to the level of belief of the people. The heroine of the books is branded as a witch, because she can see and talk to the supernatural beings, and does not want to either marry or become a nun. I very much enjoyed reading the books, they were well written with quite a lot of historical fact and interesting detail as well as being magical realism books which everyone knows I love. I found the first books especially reminded me of CS Lewis’s ‘A Horse and his Boy’ (a childhood favourite of mine) and the heroine’s ability to talk to horses was one of my favourite things about the stories.
Lady Oracle – Margaret Atwood – 14.08.19
I thought I ought to read a more grown up book, after all that magical realism, only to discover that Lady Oracle had a fair dose of magical realism of its own. I found myself really empathising with its protagonist, especially at the beginning of the book. She was very overweight, and although she lost lots of weight, she always felt like a fat person in disguise. Also she had a complicated relationship with her mother and was introverted and found it difficult to connect emotionally with others. The magical realism came when she became involved with spiritualists, and it transpired that she was gifted with sensitivity to spiritual connections, something which was to crop up at various points in her narrative. Also, she wrote ‘corset ripper’ period romances, and her one ‘serious’ book came to her by automatic writing when she went into a trance like state by staring into a candle in a mirror. Margaret Atwood is a fabulous writer, and all her books are good. I enjoyed this one very much.
The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black – 19.08.19
Back to the fairy folk. I’ve heard lots of people reference Holly Black as one of the greatest writers of modern fairy tales, so I thought I’d give her a go. So, what did I think? Well, at first I was quite put off by the very American teen drama feel to the book. American doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but I did find it a bit annoying. That said, I grew very invested in both the characters and the story, and when I finished the book, I found myself really missing it. I will read more by the author, but maybe not for a wee while.
A Ladder to the Sky – John Boyne – 22.08.19
This is a very dark, but compelling and at times funny look at the cut and thrust world of publishing. It follows a handful of people whose lives are (often tragically) affected by their interactions with a narcissistic, sociopathic, machiavellian wannabe writer. One finds oneself shocked and horrified at the lengths the main character will go to to achieve success without having enough actual talent. Good book.
Quarantine – Jim Crace – 28.08.19
I didn’t know much about this book when I started reading it, and so was surprised to discover that it is a fictionalisation of the Bible story concerning Jesus’ 40 day fast in the dessert. Jesus only has a relatively minor role as the story focuses more on the other characters also fasting in the desert (apparently this was a common activity at the time). It was an interesting and compelling read, although perhaps not one for some evangelical Christians who might be offended by the portrayal of Jesus.
The Overstory – Richard Powers – 06.09.19
Wow – this is a big book, and it took me a while to get into it. Based on trees, even the structure of the narrative is tree shaped – with root like back stories of several different characters, that come together for the main ‘trunk’ of the story and then branch out again at the end. All the characters are connected by the significance trees have had in their lives, and the coming together is about their protests against deforestation. It’s a love story to trees, with lots of interesting facts and theories. I read it before and during my late summer holiday in Wicklow, Ireland, where Paul and I visited several forest parks and stately homes and gardens where old trees featured a lot. We took an audio tour of one that talked you through the history of some of the trees, and did a sort of find the tree treasure hunt at another and I loved how what we were seeing and learning resonated with what I was reading in my book. Paul got a bit fed up with me getting so exited and going on about it! By the end of the book I was also in love with trees!
Aconite and Accusations (The Witches of Wormwood Mysteries Book 5) – Ruby Loren – 12.09.19
I had pre-ordered this next installment in the Witches of Wormwood Mysteries series, and I was looking forward to it. I think because I read it immediately after the deep and rich book, ‘The Overstory’ I initially found the lighter fluffier style of this book a bit jarring. But, I soon got over that and was back into enjoying the light and fluffy-ness of this cosy mystery.
To Be a Cat – Matt Haig – 14.09.19
Wow – I love Matt Haig! I wasn’t sure about this book, as it’s a children’s book and I sometimes find an overly simplistic style annoying. I needn’t have worried. It’s a great book for kids and adults alike (at least this 50 year old woman thinks so!) It’s deep and thoughtful as well as exciting and intriguing with just the right amount of peril. I loved the characters, especially the girl who is the main characters best friend. (Sorry, I almost always forget the names of anyone in any book as soon as I stop reading it!).
The Testaments – Margaret Atwood – 16.09.19
I had this book on my kindle wishlist, but I hadn’t pre-ordered it because £9.99 is for too much to spend on a kindle book, but then I won a prize of a £20 Amazon voucher so I bought this and pre-ordered the new Phillip Pullman book. What can I say? I loved The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’m loving the TV adaptations so I was very excited for this sequel. I liked that one of the points of view was from Aunt Lydia, and we got more of her back story and more appreciation of why she comes across as she does. There was a ‘coming of age’ vibe to the book, and two of the main characters were teens or early twenties and the book was certainly very readable and a bit of a page-turner. I just finished it feeling, hmmm… not sure – not totally satisfied. Although some terrible atrocities were referenced in the book, the feel was much lighter and less pernicious, especially the ending, and I feel that this diminished the impact of the story.
Stone Mattress – Nine Wicked Tales – Margaret Atwood – 20.09.19
On a bit of a Margaret Atwood roll, I decided to read one that had been on my kindle for ages. I didn’t realise it was short stories, which I generally don’t like, but actually, as the stories are all sort of connected, it was almost like one of those novels told from lots of different perspectives, so I was alright with it! I liked that the stories were all about older people either looking back, or reflecting on their position in life in their twilight years, and I liked the sinister undercurrent and that there was at least a little bit of magical realism!
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles – 27.09.19
This was my book group read for October. In Moscow in 1922 a Russian count is sentenced to life imprisonment in the Metropol hotel. The story follows many years of his life in the hotel and is told with charm, wit, whimsy and elegance. The feel of the book reminds me of the lovely film The Grand Budapest Hotel. There are lots of references to Russian literature and history, expressed with great affection by the count who loves his country in spite of how it has treated him, and also in spite of the terrible things that happen to some of the people he loves. The storytelling is very clever, with things referenced early in the story which become much more significant with hindsight and slot together beautifully (like in the two great books, ‘Holes’ and ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’). I found myself deeply moved by things that happened toward the end of the story and I think it is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I’m interested to discuss it with my book group buddies!
The Rapture – Liz Jensen – 01.10.19
I was flicking through my (huge!) collection of ‘to be read’ books on my kindle, trying to decide what to read after A Gentleman in Moscow, and I accidentally opened this one. I read the first page, and was gripped enough to stop flicking and just read it. It’s ‘pre-apocalyptic’ novel revolving around a therapist whose teenaged patient predicts terrible natural and man made disasters with at first curious and then alarming accuracy. I thought the book was really nicely written with intelligent and interesting use of language. I liked the main character (although I was a little irritated by how she always referred to her boyfriend by both his first and last names!). The teenage prophet was an interesting mix of crazy cruel psychopath and sweet vulnerable kid and the plot raced along with a thrillers pace. I could see it making a good movie.
The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis – 03.10.19
I remember reading (or hearing on the radio, not sure) an interview with Phillip Pullman where he complains about being compared with CS Lewis because he says Lewis was very sexist, so I thought I’d re-read the Narnia books to see if I agree. Well, I loved the Narnia books in my childhood and read them many times. and I enjoyed this re-reading. Yes, they are sexist, but you have to view them in the context of the prevailing thinking of the time that girls were delicate and it was chivalrous to protect them. The Magician’s Nephew is still a fabulous adventure story/fable with genuine funny and moving moments.
La Belle Savage (The Book of Dust Volume One) – Philip Pullman – 07.10.19
I re-read this when the second book in the series came out, to remind me what happened, and I loved it as much as the first time (and had forgotten so much that it was practically like reading it for the first time!).
The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust Volume Two) – Philip Pullman – 13.10.19
In La Belle Savage, Lyra was a baby and therefore it is set before the Northern Lights trilogy, but in this book Lyra is a grown woman and therefore happens after the other books. Whereas in our world, we might grapple with inner demons, Lyre grapples with her outer daemon as her relationship with Pantalaimon hits rocky ground and the two separate. I very much enjoyed the book – like all in the series it’s an adventure story with mystery and intrigue and danger and I also found it very moving and I can’t wait for the next installment.
The Darkening Sky – Hugh Greene – 19.10.19
I won this book in a twitter competition, and ended up buying the kindle edition which was cheap to finish reading it, as well as the rest in the series. It’s a murder mystery with the two main protagonists being a grumpy psychiatrist and a committed Christian police officer. I worried that the portrayal of the Christian might go to either extreme of mocking his faith or reading like a gospel tract, but it didn’t – the character was well rounded and likeable, and the mystery was interesting and the ending satisfying.
Doing Time – Jodi Taylor – 25.10.19
This is a slightly new direction for the Jodi Taylor time travel books (or contemporary historical whatever) as it’s from the point of view of the Time Police, who have been the enemy in the St Mary’s books. Max’s son is one of the new recruits, and the book follows him and some other newbies. It was good. I enjoyed it.
Milkman – Anna Burns – 03.11.19
I know that this book divided opinion, and a lot of people seem to find the plot and characters interesting, but are put off by the writing style. I’m pretty much the opposite. I did find the plot and characters interesting, but the writing style is the thing that I loved the most and really lifted this book for me into one of my favourite reads for a long time. Set in a republican area of West Belfast, where people live in the shadow of paramilitaries the story is told by the internal ramblings of a girl who always has her nose in a book (walking while reading is a characteristic which marks her out as an odd one in the neighbourhood) and is quite stream of consciousness in style. I just found myself relating to the girl’s thought patterns so much – although we are different people with different circumstances, I felt a real kindredness of spirit with her and felt like reading the book was coming home. I found it beautiful, lyrical and hugely satisfying to read.
Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman – 09.11.19
I don’t normally read short stories, but I love Neil Gaiman, and my daughter raved about this book and it must have been cheep on kindle one time, because I had it in my unread books folder. I’d read some of the stories before, but enjoyed re-reading them as well as discovering new stories – I especially liked the introduction by the author where he explained some background to each story.
A History of Loneliness – John Boyne (BOOKGROUP) – 16.11.19
I have read a few John Boyne books before, and I have to say this one is maybe my least favourite. It’s the story of a sweet well meaning man who was a catholic priest all his life. What annoyed me was how he seemed unable to see the abuse of children which to me seemed to be going on in a glaringly obvious fashion all around him. I will admit, though, that after discussing the book with the others in my book group, I came around to it a bit more, as we talked about how people can not see things that with hindsight, or with our modern scepticism of the catholic church seem obvious. Curiously, I liked the parts of the story which looked back on the protagonists time as a young priest in the Vatican whereas the some of the others in the group really disliked those parts!
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis – 20.11.19
It’s so nostalgic for me, re-reading the Narnia books, which I loved so much and re-read so often as a child and young adult. I have to say, I still love The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, even if it is a bit old fashioned in some of its sensibilities.
The Horse and his Boy – CS Lewis – 24.11.19
The Horse and his Boy was my absolute favourite book for years and years, as a pony mad tween, who also longed for magic and talking animals and all kinds of mythological things to be real how could I not love it. Still like it now.
The Vinyl Detective – Written In Dead Wax – Andrew Cartmel – 30.11.19
The Vinyl Detective series kept being reference by people who like Ben Aaronovitch, so I took the plunge, and bought them. I did enjoy the first book (I’m writing this after having read three of the four). It’s not supernatural, but in other ways it’s similar in style to the Rivers of London books – the main character gets employed by people who want to source rare old vinyl jazz records, and the search seems to lead him into madcap scrapes with criminals and people hiding mysterious secrets. Kind of like a more grown up scooby doo mystery.
The Fox’s Curse – Sarah Painter -03.12.19
I’m still really enjoying this supernatural urban mystery about a female private detective coming to terms with being a member of the ancient magical family and realising she had certain abilities, responsibilities, and enemies to deal with.
The Run-Out Groove (Vinyl Detective Book 2) – Andrew Cartmel – 11.12.19
The second Vinyl Detective book – still fun.
Bodily Harm – Margaret Atwood – 20.12.19
A Young journalist used to writing fluff pieces for her American newspaper, takes an assignment to an obscure Caribbean island to run away from her life. She ends up getting embroiled into a political hotpot of corruption and ultimately violence. It’s kind of like a much more serious than usual episode of Death in Paradise!
Scharlette Doesn’t Matter and Goes Time Travelling – Sam Bowring – 23.12.19
I really loved this book! It’s a fun, quirky time-travel, aliens, rom-com, masterpiece. I very much hope more books about Scharlette will follow.
Prince Caspian – C S Lewis – 25.10.19
Still enjoying this nostalgic romp through my favourite childhood series.
Why is Nothing Ever Simple – Jodi Taylor – 27.12.18
The annual St Mary’s Christmas short story – fun as ever.
Grief is a thing with feathers – 29.12.19
This was a really interesting and strange book – very poetic in its style. It’s about a recently widowed man and his two young sons, and how they come to terms with their grief. Grief itself is personified in the form of a crow, who appears to the family and narrates some of the chapters of the book. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but ended up being drawn in and really moved by the book’s denouement.
Monsters – Emerald Fennell – 31.12.18
This is an old fashioned yet darkly comic tale of a child’s eye view of murderous secrets bubbling beneath the surface of a quaint English seaside town. I enjoyed it!
My Name Is Leon – Kit de Waal – 05.01.20
This is a sad and sometimes hard-hitting but ultimately uplifting story of a young man with a difficult childhood tying to find his way in the foster care system. I liked it, but didn’t love it.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton – 15.01.20
I love the first chapter of this book – great premise and interesting style – Like the Dr Who episodes that are based on classic English mysteries – Agatha Christie meets H.G. Wells. A man stumbles through the grounds of an English manor house after witnessing what he thinks is the murder of a young woman, with no memory of who he is or what he’s doing there. Sadly it goes downhill from there. The plot becomes stranger and more convoluted and I got bored with it. I finished the book hoping it would get better, but it really didn’t. It ended up being quite repetitive, too complicated and without really allowing you to become empathetic to the characters. The ending was just plain dumb.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – CS Lewis – 21.01.20
I read this book so many times as a child that I could practically recite it word for word, and I have enjoyed reliving it.
The Driftwood Girls – Mark Douglas-Home – 27.01.20
For me, this felt like a return to form for mark douglas – home, in that I loved this installment as much as I loved the first in the series, and more than i liked the ones that have come in between. It has more of the things that I liked which are the focus on the main character’s introverted character, and the random facts about sea tide patterns and stuff like that. The mystery was interesting and compelling, and I liked the continued character development of the Sea Detective.
Highfire – Eoin Colfer – 03.02.20
I was really excited for this book, and paid the exorbitant price of £9.99 for the kindle edition, and at first I wasn’t sure I liked it. I love many of Eoin Colfer’s previous books, and the thought of him writing a fantasy for adults just thrilled me completely. At first I thought it felt just like a young adult book with lots of swearing. The style was like film noir, bad cop, delinquent but heart of gold teenager which just happened to also have a real dragon in it, rather than a fantasy book, but saying that, it did really grow on me, and by the end I was hooked. It had a lot of heart and humour while still having tension and mystery and when it was finished I missed it.
The Starless Sea – Erin Morngenstern – 10.02.20
I’m writing this up while it’s fresh in my mind, even though I have a big backlog of books to review, because I loved it so much I don’t want to forget about it. The novel is a love story to books and storytelling – it’s a mythical fable beautifully told and yet totally readable – most books, even some great books, dip in the middle and are a bit of a slog to get through, but this book for me never failed to delight – I loved every word. It has mystery and intrigue and love and adventure – magical realism aplenty (!!) and it quoted or referenced many books I have read and loved throughout my life. For me it’s in the same category as Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, or The Princess Bride, or David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks – all fabulous huge books.
The October Man – Ben Aaronovitch – 11.02.20
This ‘Rivers of London’ book while still in the same universe as the others, was set in Berlin, not London and with a new main character. Other than that it was the same idea: police officer investigating paranormal crime. It was fun.
The Vinyl Detective – Victory Disc – Andrew Cartmel – 17.02.20
Another fun installment in the rare jazz record hunting, uncovering criminal conspiracies romp series.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow – 19.02.20
In many ways this was like the wonderful Starless Sea in that they both centered around the idea of ‘doors’ being portals to other places and was a love story to the whole notion of words and meanings and storytelling, as well as a lovely and tragic actual love story. I very much enjoyed it and will be looking out for more books by Alix E. Harrow.
The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis – 21.02.20
More fun nostalgia with the Narnia Chronicles. This one is forever linked in my mind with the wonderful portrayal of Puddleglum by Tom Baker in the BBC Adaptation.
Lincoln In The Bardo – George Saunders (AUDIOBOOK) – 21.02.20
I’ve started listening to audiobooks while out on long runs (Paul and I are training for a half marathon, and having only started running from nothing ten months ago, I’m now fairly comfortable running 10 miles at a time, and working my way up). This book kept me company on the long runs, and at first I thought I mustn’t have been paying close enough attention, because I had no clue what was going on (!) but once I got my head around the fact that the story had multiple narrators, some historical figures from the time of the American Civil war and some (deceased, but not necessarily aware of the fact) inhabitants of the graveyard where President Lincoln’s young son has just been interred, I got into the swing of it and found it a most agreeable way to pass the time.
False Value – Ben Aaronovitch – 27.02.20
After reading October Man with it’s different protagonist and location, it was nice getting back to London and the guy who I’ve got to know (I’ve forgotten his name even though I just finished reading the book a few days ago – Peter someone?? ) anyway, I’m still enjoying these supernatural detective books.
The Last Battle – CS Lewis – 01.03.20
This is probably my least favourite of the Narnia Chronicles. It’s quite dark, and very obviously allegorical (although, I guess that’s the point) and also kind of sad. It deals with Narnia’s ‘last times’ and the end of the world. (Also, seen though modern eyes, parts of it could be construed as being quite racist and sexist.)
The Colours of All the Cattle – Alexander McCall Smith – 07.03.20
I really enjoyed getting back into the gentle world of Mma Ramotswe. Lovely.
Rotherweird: Rotherweird, Book 1 – Andrew Caldecott (Audiobook) – 11.03.20
I’m continuing to listen to audiobooks whilst running, and this one I found so compelling that I was eager to get out running again, and eventually just started listening to it about the house as well! Set in a village which has cut itself off from the rest of the world and which is hiding strange, mysterious and dangerous secrets. We follow the hapless Oblong, the new school teacher who stumbles into the mystery which involves hyper intelligent people, a parallel world and some nasty genetic experiments.
Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens – 13.03.20
This was my bookgroup read for March as recommended by the Rick O’shea book club on facebook. It’s a moving and intelligent book set in the swamplands somewhere in America in the 1970s (I think?). The main character is raised by an abusive father and ultimately abandoned to care for herself at a very young age. She cleverly manages to stay one step away from the truancy officers and to forage, fish and trade for what she needs to live. The descriptions of nature are very vivid and the story is interesting and I really enjoyed reading this book. (see My Book Group Reads for more)
A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World – C.A. Fletcher – 18.03.20
This book was okay – I liked it but didn’t love it. Set in a post apocalyptic world where most of the population became infertile so after people aged and died only a handful of families, spread out around the world survived. A young person went on a quest journey from their home in scotland down through England to try to retrieve their dog who had been stolen by a traveller. It had a twist near the end which I didn’t see coming.
Wyntertide: Rotherweird, Book 2- Andrew Caldecott (Audiobook) – 20.03.20
I was excited for book two in this series, but found it nowhere near as enjoyable to listen to as the first book. It was over complicated with lots of new characters and not much plot movement. I was often either confused or a bit bored or both while listening.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley – 24.03.20
I enjoyed this book. It was like sherlock holmes, doctor who and the miniaturist mixed together. Set in victorian London, a female scientist struggling to be allowed to do anything in the male dominated society, a slightly confused home office morse code message transcripter and a Japanese watchmaker who can see the future come together in mysterious circumstances. There’s intrigue, danger and forbidden romance and some magical realism – just my cup of tea!
The Vinyl Detective – Flip Back – Andrew Cartmel – 30.03.20
At first, when reading this I thought, it’s just more of the same, but then when I got drawn into the story, I realised that where this series is concerned, more of the same is not a bad thing. Witty, interesting and fun vinyl related mysteries continue. Who knew that the world of old records was so deadly?!
Wakenhyrst – Michelle Paver – 02.04.20
I really enjoyed this book. It shared a theme with The Watchmaker of Filigree Street in that an intelligent young woman was dismissed as worthless by the powerful men in her society. In this case she used this to her advantage in manipulating her cruel father who never once suspected her because she was just a woman. It’s engrossing and satisfying.
Lost Acre: Rotherweird, Book 3 – Andrew Caldecott (Audiobook) – 03.04.20
Even though I didn’t really enjoy book two in this series, I’d bought all three by this stage from Audible, and I thought I may as well see it through. This installment, while it didn’t grip me as much as the first, did, I think, return to form somewhat and I mostly enjoyed it. Sometimes I wasn’t too sure what was going on, but that might be because of listening to the audiobook rather than reading, because if I get lost when reading, I’ll just go back and read over some bits until it makes sense, but it’s much trickier to hop about an audiobook, especially while running, so I just kept going and hoped it would all make sense in the end, which it kind of did. Also the voice of the narrator started to really annoy me, so I was glad when the trilogy was finished!
Journey by Moonlight – Antal Szerb – 07.04.20
This book is translated from Hungarian, and is apparently a classic in that country and often studied at school or college. I found the main character very annoying and badly behaved. He was a fairly wealthy and seemingly spoiled young man who ditched his wife on his honeymoon to wander around Italy moping about a former love and the meaning of life and such. Meh.
A Rare Book of Cunning Device – Ben Aaronovitch (Audiobook) – 04.04.20
This was a wee short story which only lasted me for half a short run (I listen to audiobooks while out running) but it was typical Rivers of London in it’s style with wit, cunning and magical creatures, so I liked it.
Wolf Brother: Book 1 Chronicles of Ancient Darkness – Michelle Paver – 09.04.20
I looked on Amazon for more books by Michelle Paver after having enjoyed Wakenhyrst so much, and they had the set of six Chronicles of Ancient Darkness for a fiver, so it was a no brainer to buy them. It’s a young adult book set in ancient hunter/gatherer tribal times. There’s some magical realism in the Native American/Aboriginal style of animal spirits and so forth. I’m liking it quite a lot, without being completely bowled away so far.
Soul Eater: Book 2 Chronicles of Ancient Darkness – Michelle Paver – 14.04.20
I perhaps enjoyed this second installment in the series a little more than the first. I’m taking a break because two books that I pre ordered as part of my Christmas present have arrived, but I’m sure I’ll return to the series after reading them.
Terry Pratchett BBC radio drama collection (AUDIOBOOK) – 16.04.20
I very much enjoyed listening to these radio plays of Terry Pratchett’s books while out running, especially the discworld ones. I’ve read them all before, but not for a while and I loved being reacquainted with old friends like DEATH. and the weird sisters and Sam Vimes. Some of the reviewers on Amazon dissed the plays for missing out a lot of Terry Pratchett’s witty footnotes, but that didn’t upset me because a play is a different way of telling the story and they should just read the books if that’s what they want.
The Book of Koli – M.R. Carey –20.04.20
I was really looking forward to this new novel from the writer of The Girl With all the Gifts, and The Boy on the Bridge, and to begin with, I was a little disappointed as it didn’t instantly grip me. It’s set in an established post apocalyptic future where life is primitive in villages separated by inhospitable wastelands with carnivorous trees and venomous animals. Old tech is treated religiously and only allowed to be operated by the ‘chosen’ few. When our hero, Koli is banished for discovering secrets hidden by this elite class he must face dangers on his quest for truth and safety. I found myself more and more drawn in to the book until I couldn’t wait to get back to it and now I’ve finished it I can’t wait for the next two installments in the trilogy.
The Color Purple – Alice Walker (AUDIOBOOK) – 25.04.20
I think this is my favourite audiobook experience so far. I’d seen the film but not read the book, and this audiobook version was narrated by the author and in the form of letters, so felt very personal and intimate as I walked or ran through the beautiful Belfast parks and green areas and Alice Walker chatted away to me telling me the funny, tragic and ultimately uplifting tale of Celie and her family.
Plan For The Worst (The Chronicles of St Mary’s Series Book 11)– Jodi Taylor – 27.04.20
I’m a big fan of Jodi Taylor, so I pre-ordered this new St Mary’s book and read it as soon as it came out. Hmmm, I found myself slightly annoyed by it at times, just more of the same. But then, at other times I was moved and/or amused. I loved the Tower of London stuff, as I was there in February and took the tour so I could keep saying to myself ‘yes, I saw that!’ or ‘yes, that’s what our guide told us!’ which was fun.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard – JK Rowling (AUDIOBOOK) – 27.04.20
My previous audiobook finished halfway through my walk, and this was the only new one that was downloaded on my phone, so I listened to it. It was fun.
She is Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgwick – 29.04.20
I very much enjoyed this young adult novel by Marcus Sedgwick. A blind british girl flies to New York with her little brother following clues to locate her missing father. It is a book with lots of layers – it’s a treasure hunt, a quest, a coming of age story, a family drama about love and miscommunication and an interesting study in mental illness and obsession. I liked the extracts from her father’s notebook where he ranted about coincidence and fate and causality – that was interesting. It reminded me of two great books I’ve read: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Coincidence Authority by John Ironmonger.
Things in Jars – Jess Kidd (AUDIOBOOK) – 05.05.20
I enjoyed this audiobook. I found the female Irish narrator very pleasant to listen to, and I liked the Victorian gothic mystery ghost story circus folk vibe. It follows a female private detective who pretends to be a widow as it’s shameful for a single woman to do pretty much anything interesting in Victorian England, investigating mysterious missing children cases with the added twists of having a ghostly companion and there being magical realism (yay!) in the form of the realisation of the mermaid/selkie myth.
Soul Eaters: Book 3 Chronicles of Ancient Darkness – Michelle Paver – 03.05.20
More mystery and danger in this next installment in the prehistoric series by Michelle Paver.
Holly Winter Mysteries, Book 1 – Ruby Loren – 05.05.20
Oh my goodness, I thought this was utter dross and drivel, so I gave up after the first part, and yet…. something in me wants to go back and read more – like eating sweets made of chemical laced sugar that we know are bad but still want.
The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart – Margarita Montimore -10.05.20
This is an interesting and enjoyable book about a woman whose consciousness jumps at midnight on New Year’s Eve every year to a different time in her life – so she effectively lives her life in the wrong order. The book explores the positive and negative impacts on her and makes us look at life in a different way.
The Hundred Secret Senses – Amy Tan
I love Amy Tan – I have read The Bone Setter’s Daughter, Saving Fish From Drowning, The Joy Luck Club and most recently this one, The Hundred Secret Senses. Amy Tan’s books give a facinating glimse of Chinese history and Chinese American history on a personal level. I love her characters and I love the mystical magical realism element that often interweaves with the ‘real’ stories. I’m keeping a lookout in my charity shop sweeps for her other novels. 05/07/09
The Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall
I just finished reading The Raw Shark Texts this morning, and I searched for it with google (to get a picture) and read two reviews absolutely slating it for being pretentious and overwritten and cliched but I have to say that whether or not those things are true, I loved it! It was just deep and mysterious enough to intrigue me, and exciting enough to grip me, and sad enough to move me, and now that I’ve finished it I’m missing it. Okay, so it doesn’t necessarily make sense in the cold hard light of day – so what? I loved the characters (including the cat) I loved the mystery and treasure hunt nature of the journey and the strange peril from the conceptual shark and I enjoyed the exciting and interesting use of language – why shouldn’t a writer play around with words? To the reviewers who said it was overwritten, I says ‘so’s your face’ (I’m always ready with a clever come-back.) 05/07/09
Inkdeath – Cornelia Funke
I’m on about my third attempt to read Cornelia Funke’s Inkdeath. I read the first book (Inkheart) ages ago (because The Chicken House, who publish the series in this country, were showing an interest in one of my manuscripts so I though I should read some of their books. Another Chicken House book, Kissing The Rain by Kevin Brooks was BRILLIANT, but Inkdeath was just okay.) I wanted to love it, because the premise is really good – characters from books who become real in our world, and people from our world entering the real world of books – great idea, but the books themselves are a little tedious, especially this third in the series. It’s very serious with very little humour which I think is its downfall – at least for me. I’m taking it as a personal challenge to finish it. I’m on page two hundred and something out of about fifty million (actually, I’ve just checked and it has about seven hundred pages). I can’t face the next five hundred pages without a break – in fact, I think I’ll leave it here for a while and read something else. I promise I’ll finish it eventually though. Honest. 07/07/09
Chasing Windmills – Catherine Ryan Hyde
My older son is not really into reading, but I thought he might enjoy an old book by Ben Elton called Dead Famous, which is a comedy/drama based around a Big Brother like reality TV show. When I was looking through my shelves of read books trying to find it, I found Chasing Windmills, and didn’t remember having read it (I must have put it there by mistake). I picked it up and scanned the first page, and then carried it with me for the rest of the day and finished it at two thirty this morning. I love Cathering Ryan Hyde – I really enjoyed Love in the Present Tense, and quite liked Pay it Forward, and I really loved Chasing Windmills. Two very different people from difficult backgrounds both ride the subway in New York in the middle or the night as a way of escaping from their home life. Their eyes meet and it’s instant love – but they’re star-crossed lovers, and things don’t go smoothly for them. It’s a beautifully written book that I found very compelling reading. I see from the front of the book that Catherine Ryan Hyde has written eight books – so if anyone wants to buy me a present, I wouldn’t mind reading some of those (hint hint). 12/07/09
The Child’s Book of True Crime – Chloe Hooper
I found this book when browsing in the Oxfam second hand bookshop in Belfast, and the title grabbed me first – The Child’s Book of True Crime, by Chloe Hooper. It was shortlisted for the Orange prize as well, so I thought it must be good, but when I first started reading it I have to say I hated it. It read like strange Australian Chick lit. (It’s not the Australian bit I didn’t like, it was the Chick-lit bit – I am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak is one of my favourite books ever and it’s Australian.) It did grow on me a bit – I loved all the bits where the kids were quoted (in the ackowledgements the author thanks ‘the brilliant fourth grade students who shared their philosphical insights’, so I guess at least some of them where genuine quotes – cool). I was slightly annoyed by the way the narrator told storied about the other characters that she couldn’t possibly know – I guess the stories where just her suppositions and were supposed to tell us more about the narrator than about the people she was discussing, but still, it annoyed me. I thought the ending was a bit flat too – one of the quotes from the children was that they thought a good story should have a twist at the end, and I thought great – there’s going to be a twist to at least make the ending good, but then there wasn’t. I just sort of ended. Ah well. 14/07/09
The Believers – Zoe Heller
This book was recommended by one of my book group buddies and I bought it a while back and it’s been sitting around in my pile of books to be read for a few weeks, but I finally got around to reading it. I didn’t instantly love it, it was a little harder work to get into than some of the books I’ve read recently, but I think the effort was worth it because I did get very drawn into the characters. It’s a book more about characters than plot – an English-American-Jewish family living in New York and for most of the book the husband/father is in a coma following a massive stroke. The characters were very real and familiar, especially one of the daughters who was apologetic and had low self esteem and was overweight – yes, she was me. The mother was so out-spoken and tactless that she was about as far from me as it’s possible to be and yet I got a real vicarious pleasure out of imagining having the chutzpah to talk to people the way she did – what would I say and who would I say it to? (Imagining it is making me shudder with a mixture of naughty pleasure and horror at the consequenses.) The son suffered from various addictions and the other daughter is wondering whether to become an orthodox jew. The book was funny and fascinating and touching and I would recommend it. 17/07/09
Elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevin
This is another book that languished on my ‘to be read’ pile for quite a long time. I am extremely grateful to Gabrielle Zevin for writing teen novels and having a last name that is beyond mine in the alphabet. Thanks to Gabrielle Zevin, I’m not quite at the very end of alphabetical lists, or at the very bottom of alphabeticalised shelves in book shops, so the least I could do was read one of her books. I liked Elsewhere (on the whole) it’s very readable, and has some very funny lines. I like the premise – a strange look at the afterlife being a place much like earth but where people age backwards until they are babies, when they return to be born again. It reminded me quite a lot of another book called ‘The Brief History of The Dead’ by Kevin Brockmeier (which I preferred, although it is an adult book rather than a teen book.) It also reminded me of Benjamin Button with the whole aging backwards thing. Things that I loved about it were, the clever premise, the humour, the believability of it all and the real and interesting reaction by the main character to what was happening to her. Things I didn’t like about it were, its American-ness (I know, when a book is written by an American, it should be American, and why should that annoy me? Am I a terrible anti-American prejudiced person? Maybe. I will try to mend my ways) the anthropomorphising of animals (the whole talking dog thing – I could buy into the boat journey to the afterlife, and aging backwards – that’s seemed feasible enough and was approached maturely and believably, but pet dogs that chat away like humans – no. Animals are not little furry humans, if dogs would talk they would talk about food and sex and walkies and not much more. And mermaids – then the book just got into the realms of throwing in everything the writer wished was true because she was the writer, so why shouldn’t she have talking dogs and mermaids?). Overall though, I found the book moving and interesting and enjoyable. 20/07/09
Inkdeath – Cornelia Funke
Another stab at Inkdeath – I’ve got about 160 odd pages further through it. I actually enjoyed getting back to it – like seeing an old friend for a cuppa, but unfortunately this old friend seems to be chronically depressed and while I do love them, I can only take the death and despair in small doses, so it’s back on the shelf for Inkdeath for another while. 25/07/09
Small Ceremonies – Carol Shields
I was introduced to Carol Shields when we read her last novel, ‘Unless’ in book group. I found I identified with the book’s narrator on a very deep level, and really enjoyed it. I’ve since read Larry’s Party and The Stone Diaries, and this book, Small Ceremonies is the first novel Carol Shields wrote way back in 1976. It is a bit dated, but the familiar voice of the woman who feels like a kindred spirit to me is still there. The book is about a biography writer who wants to write fiction, so she takes a course run by her old friend and successful writer. She’s completely stumped about coming up with an idea for what to write for her coursework, and ends up plagiarising a plot from a manuscript she came across when staying in the home of an unpublished writer. Years later, her friend brings out a new book that revitalises his flagging career, but to her horror, when he finally gets around to reading it, he’s stolen her plot that she in turn stole from someone else! 27/07/09
The Colour Purple – Alice Walker
My next book group read is Beloved by Toni Morrison, a book about slavery in America (I think – I haven’t read it yet). Thinking about this book made me realise that I’d never read The Color Purple, and that I should. I saw the film, ages ago, although it is a film that I found stuck in my mind, and that maybe should have warned me off reading the book – not because I didn’t like the film, because I did, just because as a general rule if I’ve already seen the film, a book is kind of spoiled for me – I don’t get the usual free range of imagination giving faces to the characters, plus I know how it ends. I usually don’t like it other way round either – watching a film based on a book I’ve read – I get upset at the changes they make, or if the characters are way different from the way I imagined them (with the exception of the Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies which I loved.) Saying that, I still enjoyed reading the book. I loved the structure – the entire book was a series of letters, initially from the main character, Celie to God, and then to her sister Nettie, and some from Nettie to Celie. Celie uses such everyday excepting language to describe the terrible abuse she suffers which gives it, I think all the more impact, while making the book (on some levels at least) very easy to read. I’m taking a break from serious books now though, and re-reading one of my all time favourite feel-good books, Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (both of whom are my absolute heroes.) 29/07/09
Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
I really love this book. I’ll have to buy a new copy soon because mine is falling apart due to over-reading. It’s funny and sweet and a little bit irreverent and one of my favourite feel-good books of all time. Also it was the book that introduced me to the work of Neil Gaiman and I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by him sinc